Three Poems by Todd Davis

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Self Portrait with Fish and Water

In the world underwater, in that world beyond this world
near the cattails where bass patrol their spawning beds, early
summer light clings to the turquoise sides of pumpkinseed sunfish,
so named because of the shape their bodies take, not the coloration
of their ctenoid scales, tangerine stippling that stony blue, giving way
to a yellow that seeps to the base of the pelvic fin, an aquatic
canvas as if painted by that artist who cut away his own ear
out of love, leaving a blackened hole the sounds of his joyous
screams rushed into, a coal-dark flap like the one at the side
of this fish’s face who shows me that the world is always receding,
fleeing the shape of my shadow as I walk these banks.




And these deer at my bramble gate: so close
here, we touch our own kind in each other.
— Tu Fu (712-770)


Near the railroad tracks poachers

have stacked the bodies of seven

headless deer, stuffed sacks

of flesh to waste.  Someone has dumped

a horse head, too.  I can’t imagine

why, or what was done with a body

of such heft.  Hair stripped, the hum

of bluebottle flies pervades the rotting

air.  I note the lips are lost as well

to bacteria and beetles that crave the flesh.

Large teeth protrude like a piano’s

keyboard, bringing back the song I sang

this past spring while planting the corn

and squash I knew the deer would eat.



Canticle for Native Brook Trout

Now we are all sitting here strangely
On top of the sunlight.
— James Wright, “A Winter Daybreak above Vence”


Fishing the narrow stream
of light, we follow a seam
between hemlock and sweating
rhododendron, tulip poplar
and white oak that grow
more than a hundred feet
in the air. The small fish
that have been here for thousands
of years lay in on the flat rock
that lines the streambed,
or hide beneath the shelves
where water pours over
fallen trees. They are nearly
invisible, backs colored
like the stone in the pool
where they were born
and where they will die
after giving birth to their own.
The drift of our flies
tempts them, and through
the glass surface we see
their jaws part, predatory
surge ending with a struggle
to be freed from the end
of our lines. Their lives
depend upon the coldness
of water, upon our desire
to touch their bodies,
to marvel at the skin
along their spines: the tan
worm-shaped ovals,
the smallest red circles,
the splash of yellow
and orange that washes
around their bellies
as we release them
and they swim
from our grasp
back into a sliver
of sunlight.



Todd Davis teaches environmental studies at Penn State University’s Altoona College. He is the author of four books of poems, most recently In the Kingdom of the Ditch and The Least of These, both published by Michigan State University Press. He also edited Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball (MSU Press, 2012) and Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets (SUNY Press, 2010).  New poems are forthcoming or have appeared recently in American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, Sou’wester, Green Mountains Review, West Branch, Poet Lore, and Image.

Header photo by Todd Davis.

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