This week I am featuring David Till, one of the older voices in the contemporary poet community. Till is the emeritus professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, and he has taught literature and poetry at this institution since 1971. A few years later in conjunction with the university, Till founded and became the editor of APSU’s literary journal, Zone 3, a nationally recognized magazine dedicated to highlighting native poets and nonfiction writers. The journal happily reached its 25th year in 2010 and continues to grow in talent and influence. Though he accumulated degrees from universities across the midwest, he has settled in Tennessee, and we are glad to claim him as one of our own.
I had been looking for my fatherʹs face,
not the one, with its little whiskers, rubbed
against mine before I was ʺoldʺ‐‐that face
made me loved.
And not the one, of course,
in the photograph‐‐any one. Which face,
then? I think the one I surprised in the toolshed
before he knew I was there‐‐Iʹd come so quietly
through shadows of late afternoon.
thoughtful, and sad.
Behind the shed, the river
went by gathering light it carried along.
My father raised his hand to salute, or dismiss,
or wave farewell to a random idea he had,
and then he turned, maybe, to where I was,
and what I saw was no face at all, was an oval
of dusky light the shape of a face that had gone
where the river goes. That one.
The first time I encountered this piece, I heard myself breathe in sharply as I read the last line. I wasn’t prepared for the concluding feeling that stopped my thoughts so abruptly. In the brief number of lines which Till moves the reader through so smoothly, he is both recounting a single moment and touching on different stages of his father’s life. When he searches his memory for a look his father had left him with, he remembers the moment that preceded the look–one that is crystalized in the enjambment of, “It was/ thoughtful, and sad.” Because I am a watcher of people, faces, and, consequently, a little bit of their souls, I know the instance that Till has described very well. I believe I have even exhibited such an oval to those around me before. This blank look is an expression of the moment when you lose yourself in the quietness of your surroundings and in the noise of your thoughts, however heavy or light they might be. The simplicity of Till’s language flows and allows him to pull the reader through the short poem effortlessly and, then, with a two-word sentence, “That one,” the reader is suspended, halted, and standing next to a river in the light of the afternoon. As readers, we stop because we know–we know that we too have seen this look, if we have ever observed someone long enough to catch a glimpse of them lost in thought.
To purchase a copy of David Till’s gracious book of poems titled, Oval, try here for options on Amazon.