When he saw it was passing. When he stood in the doorway on an early June morning and really heard the birds—the mockingbird’s chip chip chip chip chee-ry in the acacia, the quail pacing and squawking from the parapet, the song sparrow’s waterfall trill from its juniper perch. When he watched the clouds pass over and watched new clouds arrive. When he saw the wind in the branches and swayed with them like the bittern in the marsh grass he watched as a child. When images of his young daughter, now grown and living on the coast, began flickering at the edge of thought. When he felt the heaviness in his limbs and felt it passing, his answer was to write it down, to mark its passing by making it more permanent, the way the shale had taken the trilobite his ex-wife had found in Pennsylvania and replaced it grain by grain until there was nothing left of the original creature—only a beautiful, intricate mold. Not the trilobite itself, not the creature, but a replica, a gathering that marked the trilobite’s absence. The way each of his words marked the event, the object, the life that had passed into oblivion, the oblivion of memory which is worn by use, the edges, the beautiful glitter, the luster, the sharp definition of each ridge now gone. So that each memory is like the blurred photograph that marks the absence of the object photographed, that is an occasion therefore of speech, of story, so that you hold it up and say, That black speck was a whale, that blur above him the waterspout, so beautiful, and it was a cool spring morning and breezy and I held you, you were wrapped in your little parka, and you wanted to ride him, you said, could you ride him, could you touch him, could you feed him, you said. And then the calf appeared alongside the ship breaching and tumbling and clowning and I set you down along the rail and held the back of your coat while you laughed and startled each time he rose, stomping your feet, until one big eye looked at you and you clapped. It was all passing and you laughed and clapped and looked up at me, dancing a little now from the middle of your almost unbearable joy.
The Failed Spring
Barring a second assault, all should be well.
The current proprietor of the bird house
has launched an encomium of sorts from the acacia
lamenting the previous owner’s poorly-made nest
and unhatched eggs, assuring us the new nest,
built directly on the first, entombing thereby
the earlier clutch of speckled eggs, is timed
to coincide with the end of the surprising
cold snap, the unforeseen winds from the east.
That we have chosen to call the group of eggs
a clutch. That the brittle remnants
of the oak’s leaves, singed by frost, are being replaced
by tiny replicas sprouting like the hands
of the thalidomide boy you once watched
bowling with his feet. And how we love this chance at recovery, this overcoming, this triumph
of the spirit, this . . . what? We know there’s a word
for it, or many, in many languages, if we could
only recall them as the fulsomeness regathers
and sweeps over us like a Waikiki wave
or like a memory of other springs. Certainly
these vicissitudes mock our fatuousness, ask us
gently to get down from our high horses.
But whose horses are these? And when did
we mount them? It seems we woke here
already athwart these geldings and mares,
certain that spring would arrive with its lilacs
and birdsong, its vague promise to melt like a bonbon
in the mouth of summer, then disappear
into roguish fall and raffish winter, only to return
with its rains and sudden smells of wet soil,
warblers teetering in the elms, at least so far,
though it is early in this callous
and retributional century.
Before I Go
I want to say the guacamole was pleasant,
metallic and viscous, and the ornamentation,
while excessive, contributed a certain vagueness
to the otherwise overly-managed event. For instance,
the various proposals concerning the movement
of shoulders and hips; the recent prohibition
of leaning-beside-the-punch-bowl; the manic outbursts
of praise near the X-mas tree. For that matter,
the damaging claims made by carolers, the rigid order
for the revelation of gifts, the marked lack of scholarship
concerning holiday rituals, the call for more endnotes,
the codified nutmeg ritual that lost all spontaneity
with the addition of fiber masks and surgical gloves,
though our hostess’s eyes flashed dramatically
after the sanitary draping of nose and mouth.
The gifts, while paltry and too hastily wrapped,
were a welcome addition to the festivities.
I want to say your ardor, however manufactured,
was appreciated. I want to say I will place this lovely
figurine in a place of honor. Did I mention
the fervor, the panicked caterwauling in the coat room?
The vestments lifted, each in their turn, and displayed
briefly like unwanted kittens discovered
in the back hall closet. The squalling, the convulsive
laughter, the demeaning appraisals were, it’s true,
uncalled for, but the garments were—how to
characterize them? For amongst the dull tweeds
and camel hairs were the sudden flights
of “wearable art,” the cheery pastels,
the loopings and frayings—these were the cries
of those grown brazen with death’s approach,
certain that something needed expressing
though uncertain what it was and who
it might be that would do the expressing.
If our endorsements seem overly energetic,
if our enthusiasms trend to the mawkish,
know that we are credentialed by these garments,
sponsored by the darkness leaning its black fur
against the windows. Every departure is fraught,
each leave-taking tragic, now that the snow has begun,
lovely in its erasures, its glittering whiteness
a miracle, so coherent and so meaningless.
Jon Davis is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Preliminary Report (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), Scrimmage of Appetite, for which he was honored with a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry, and Dangerous Amusements, for which he received the Peter I.B. Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He is also the author of five limited-edition chapbooks, including Thelonious Sphere (Q Ave. Press, 2014) and Loving Horses (Palace Press 2014), and a limited edition art book in collaboration with the artist Jamison Chas Banks, Heteronymy: An Anthology (La Nana Creek Press, forthcoming 2015). Dayplaces, which Davis translated from the Arabic with the author, Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan, is forthcoming from Tebot Bach Press in 2015. He is director of the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.