Jim Daniels | The Lincoln Death Chair

Jim Daniels
The Lincoln Death Chair

…a dark stain on the red upholstery of the back of the chair due to soiling from the hair pomade that was fashionable for men at the time. At one time this was thought to be the president's blood, but it is not.

A field trip to Greenfield Village,
Henry Ford’s outdoor museum. Henry, one
of Detroit’s gods, but we were in 9th grade
and he was just somebody our fathers worked for,
even if he was dead.

Ron and Pete and I dumped out half a bottle
of Coke, refilled it with rum in the weeds
behind the bowling alley next to school,
a little secret fuck you to the yellow bus
idling by the auto shop.

Henry/Hank Ford. Fuck you too! We weren’t
going to disappear inside your factories
like our fathers. We packed the bottle
with our bag lunches. Why get drunk
to visit the Wright brothers’ workshop,
Edison’s lab? Why not?

Warm by the time we passed
around the bottle — Ron, Pete, and me —
between bites of bologna sandwiches.
We fell asleep on the bus home,
but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Getting ahead of ourselves perhaps
was the point, though to try to get a point
we could sharpen our pencils down
to stubs and still have nothing.

The next year Ron’s dad died
in a car accident, Ron in the backseat,
his cool sunglasses exploding,
Pete became Peter and started getting
too friendly in a way that didn’t cut it
at our school.

My son’s in 9th grade. The idea of him drinking
sprays shotgun pellets into my chest.
I don’t know what he’s doing in his room
with the door closed. Well, I kind of know.

If he could take a field trip
to where I’ve been, would he want
the bus to pull over and let him
puke his guts out?

Pete, hunched over roadside gravel,
retched while we watched.
Mrs. Kerman told the driver
it must be that bug going around.

I killed that bug twice in my life,
and I swear I’ll never have to kill it again.
Ever since I got stoned and missed
a flight home to my children.

We stood in front of the chair Lincoln
was shot in, all we wanted to see
in the whole damn museum — the stain.

I threw away my apple. The cute girls wanted
nothing to do with us., enamored instead
of the Orville and Wilbur actors in the cycle shop.

We were looking for our parts,
trying to figure out how they fit together.
My son’s doing that upstairs
with his headphones on and his computer
tuned to a string of xxxxxs.

No one’s disappeared from his life yet,
seeping away into the big wide world,
the gluttonous slob of a world, the whale’s mouth,
the tunnel on the turnpike, the disconnected phones.

I followed our trails long enough to know
that we all did, at least for a time, end up working
for Mr. Henry Ford. Rum and Coke in the morning.
Coke and Run for lunch.

The glassblower, the candle maker, the wool spinner,
didn’t stand a chance in Henry’s world.
I suppose that wasn’t the lesson for the day.

I wrote my paper about Lincoln’s roped-off
Death Chair. I waited for the crowd to thin,
hoping to sneak a feel, but it never did.

Abraham/Abe, dude, man, tough luck, buddy.
I clenched the golden rope. I wrote about —
I don’t remember what, except I got marked
down for claiming it was blood

when it was proven to be pomade
from greasy heads leaning back
in the Ford Theater, in the dark, waiting
for the show to begin.

Date of publication: 
February 22, 2014


Jim Daniels’ latest book of poems, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013 and was selected as a Michigan Notable Book. His next book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, will be published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. A native of Detroit, Daniels teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.