Who planted the bruises
blooming inside your thighs?
What were you without the night
or rain on the sill? The landlord ran us out
with a broom, the same broom that pierced the ceiling
with insistent pounding. The perturbation of springs
coiling and uncoiling. The walls are thin,
I hear her cries. Sheets tucked in at the corner
so tight you could bounce a quarter off. She came
and poked around a bit, before she went again
for the first time. The percussion was astounding.
It rang the leopard from his napping limb.
Deep in the cave a grizzly stirred: a reminder
that certain schedules are easier to keep.
He stretched before the steeple breeching
the treeline. The two of us, traveling as a pear,
hanging soft and ripe. I lean against the pear tree
with a book. Victorian texts are redefining
social etiquette. How’s this… of all the things I’ve seen
breeching the treeline, you are the finest.
Go ahead and stretch. You’ll have to be flexible for this.
Here is the record player, here is the drum set,
see what you can make of it. I’ll sit by the fire
reciting Ireland, delivering a brief history of Spain.
I’ll wait for the day you find me hanging on the ropes.
Press a cold towel to my brow.
Steep the tea and we will drink it.
Boil water. Inspire a rose of heat from the stove.
Down on All Fours, Calling
He called in to the museum after work.
The friar and the painting of a wolf, splattered
and stroked with barely a moment
of familiarity but the essence of wolf,
and the denial of wolf and paint
and the moon to which it, he, they
would otherwise have howled.
He understands the compulsion of tides.
Francis on the wood paneled floor of his childhood
home in the country, reading by sunlight
the teachings of William Ayers, so taken
by the box turtle climbing a milk-carton bridge
that he almost failed the furious din
peaking through the wood panels: two chipmunks
barking, scratching, unseen. On the lawn two small
owls fall from an oak branch. Clawing at air.
Frank’s father, when rabbits sat twitching
in the weeds of the lawn, would remove
the choker from the dog’s neck, allow it
to hunt unencumbered. She’d clip at their heels
when they bound from clover to thicket.
Frankie’s father came home drunk
and climbed the wrought iron bars to the landing
where he perched with a cooler of beer
to shoot coyotes and wolves off to den.
St. Francis, in his loneliness, sits reading
a comprehensive history of our evolution. He disagrees
with their author on the hierarchy of man.
Shares equal empathy, all suffering assumed.
Consumed by the orbiting, lit by candles,
this night will fall to its knees. He is called
to the occupation of constant reinvention,
or as Bartleby suggested, in the weakened hours
of a man falling to his knees
in the presence of something greater:
a slow summer afternoon, tending garden.
As Japan Reeled
Stirring in the first plank of light, extended
like an arm from the beaded window, I squint
and reacquaint myself with the floor of the foreign room,
and the bearded mountain goat, bled out and mounted
on the wall above the bed. A torn poster of Kathy Ireland
leaning coyly against a baseball bat, dust on her knees.
This must be one of those Sunday mornings
before we discovered beer, or the means to procure it.
We walked down along the beach,
a film of sweat breeching beneath the clothes we wore
the night before when it was cooler. We left our shoes
by the fence and rolled our pants up above our knees.
It was the time of the year when Lake Michigan killed
thousands of fish, washed to shore in a blanket of algae.
Their silver bodies, half rotten, would bring flies.
That was the worst of it. We dried off and went on walking,
kicking through dunes to the tune of an old radio
that ate double-Ds and bootlegged Nirvana tapes.
Behind one of the dunes a log had grayed to ash
from a fire, not ours, that raged the night before.
We skipped smooth stones and collected smooth glass
and mentioned that the horizon was exactly 18 miles out,
we could make it by Monday if we started now, you suspected.
Why am I not pretty?
The ocean asked the sky once the ash came
spilling like steam from a split seam of earth.
Six miles under the level we once stood, the groans
of a disgruntled planet quaked violently, shivered
to the island shore, rose as walls of angry wave,
turning over, turning over, frothing.
(To be jealous, in the West-African sense, is to inspire awe,
a state reserved only for God,
as only God can inspire awe, or even imply it.)
As the earth shivered in repentant quake and terror,
God looked down and smiled. I called him over and over,
imagining the drowned shoreline and the planks of water
tapping at his window sill and spilling in; crumbling the castles
we made, toppling buildings near his newfound home.
I yearned for a simpler time, when we skipped stones,
when friendship was as easy as eggs on Sunday morning.
When finally we spoke he was readying himself
for an afternoon underwater, fishing sharks with harpoon
on an island the storm would not touch.
What sort of shark will you fish? I wondered.
Whatever’s out there with us, he supposed.
Jealous at the ease of his living, I bought a six-pack of beer
and sat on the beach, concluding that if ever I was to swim out,
how the horizon would remain always 18 miles away.
So I just sat there in the sand,
emptying cans in the dunes by the fire.
Understanding the Nature of the Desert
I tied a towel around my head,
I drew a map in the sand with a stick.
The wind stung my unprotected face.
Vultures like water circling the drain.
The milk jug had been buried in the garden,
filled with a few copper coins, a Polaroid,
and an early attempt at writing: a letter
to my future self that begins: Hello, if you are alive.
I dust away the crumbs of blue-corn chips and drink
from a cactus branch. I drink from an aloe stalk,
drink one thousand tart cherries, pressed and bled.
Wind wipes away the map. The dunes lift and set
like waves. I rise and dust away the sand.
I am grateful for warmth. I am grateful
for conversation. I have read the Outsiders
now that I am too old for the Outsiders, old enough
to appreciate it. I have fallen on my sword.
I traced a picture in sand, called it Black: My Suicide.
Stopped by the light off the dune, I envision myself
as a painter. I have to squint. The wind is blinding.
As for the sword, it strikes as it ought to.
A fig beetle rises from its burrow and scuttles
through the desert, to no place particular.
To Better Understand the Birds in the Park
This is my love letter to the birds
that hang like ash over fire. Last night
I could not sleep so I buried myself
in blankets, scarf round my neck, and still,
I was cold, so I bundled my bedding and slept on the couch.
On the way down I saw one through the window,
sleeping on a park bench. In the shower I heard
the neighbors having sex. I heard through the wall
that someone came in and stole them. Stole what?
I thought, the object obscured by plush dialogue.
She’s 30, looks pregnant. The smart one,
they used to call her. I see her now and then
when she’s walking her dog.
She grabbed the banister as she stumbled down the steps.
Sure, I’ll have a glass before we leave, she said,
and tipped a watering can to the planted.
Layers of prophetic, complicated references
continue to surprise the audience, although
now and then, are lost. Please, I could only
carry enough to survive the winter.
Lick the thread for texture, that’s right,
test the wool with your tongue. See if it is fine
enough to weave a blanket from, and remember,
there are no old souls, only those who have grown old
before their time.
City snow plows rumble in the lot.
There’s a girl out there, somewhere,
maybe in a bar, that one of them will marry.
The rest, who knows? If it rains, it rains.
There might never be snow. In case you were wondering,
there is still a fist of mistletoe hanging from the eave,
thought its leaves are brown and wilted.
It works just the same, however,
when you point to it.
With complete understanding of the flooded yard,
I decide that today is the day I will paint my masterpiece.
I will paste one thousand letters to a board
and stand back to observe. I will consider
the metal-drum bonfires in city parks
as a blinking reflection of stars in the sky.
I will connect the assembly bathed in orange light
to the weightless birds hovering above the heat,
assuming once their bellies swell,
they will nest in the trees.
Jim Davis is the editor of the North Chicago Review, and will be appearing as the feature artist for an upcoming issue of Palooka Magazine. Poems from his upcoming collection have been selected to appear in Poetry Quarterly, Blue Mesa Review, The Ante Review, The Café Review, Chiron Review, and Midwest Literary Magazine, among others.
In addition to his career as a teacher, poetry and painting are his greatest passions. Davis graduated from Knox College with a degree in Studio Art, and is currently studying education at Northeastern Illinois University.
He is an international semi-professional football player who has traveled around the world in athletic and artistic pursuits – a unique combination of interests that fuels much of his work.