Todd Davis

Todd Davis (webpage) teaches creative writing, environmental studies, and American literature at Penn State University’s Altoona College. He is the author of three books of poetry – The Least of These (Michigan State University Press, 2010), Some Heaven (Michigan State University Press, 2007) and Ripe (Bottom Dog Press, 2002) – one chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010), and co-editor of the anthology, Making Poems: 40 Poems with Commentary by the Poets (State University of New York Press, 2010). His poems have been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac” and by Marion Roach on “The Naturalist’s Datebook,” as well as by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column “American Life in Poetry.” In addition to his creative work, Davis is the author or editor of six scholarly books, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade, or How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism (State University of New York Press, 2006) and Mapping the Ethical Turn: A Reader in Ethics, Culture, and Literary Theory (University Press of Virginia, 2001). His latest book is an edited collection of creative nonfiction by poets writing about basketball.

Our near-neighbor, the poet Todd Davis (whose work has appeared here in the past) included the following in an email on Saturday night. I thought it might be of general interest, especially for fans of meditation. —Dave

pileated woodpeckers on a dead tree

Still no deer. But another beautiful day in the woods. As you know, it snowed Friday night until about three in the morning. When I walked in at 5:45 a.m., the woods were striped in white and there was no need for a headlight: the snow on the ground was catching the light from the sliver of moon, making my path easy.

My blind was crushed to the ground by the weight of the snow. It’s a temporary blind, a tent essentially. I had to pull it back up, knock snow and ice from it, and make all kinds of ridiculous noise.

I had deer around me four different times today, but none afforded me a safe and merciful shot. Thus no deer. The ravens were quiet today, but the crows took up the chorus. I had a dead black cherry near and a pileated would knock on it every so often, asking me to open the door of my senses, stop me from day-dreaming or drowsing from lack of sleep.

I walked out at 5:30 p.m. The moon was back up and, without wind, all was silent, except for the railroad tracks in the valley. While my freezer and family may mourn no meat, it was still a day well spent.

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

June light lengthens, pulled like string
from a ball of twine, or like days
in the far north, strands of hair so thin

night doesn’t come for months at a time.
With light that long, the eyes and the soul
must grow tired, as must the grasses

and flowers that emerge all at once.
We are made for motion and rest.
To be awake for days on end and then

to sleep, to sleep: it must be like climbing
down a shaft in the earth, dark crumbling,
then collapsing, until you find the edge

of the river that runs far beneath the ground:
waters undetectable to the eye, felt more
through the sound they carry than the caress

they finger over the soft skin on the inside
of the wrist. It is this kind of sleep
none can resist: why we disrobe, slide leg-first

into its current, blackness bearing more
than our bodies, our forgetting
of what continues well above our heads.

—Todd Davis

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

Most of the days have been full of green rain and clouds the color
of magnolia petals as they rot in the emerging grasses. Three weeks ago
I planted half the potatoes (white Kennebecs), and just Monday

they broke the earth, a salad of leaves sprinkled with clay. The other half
(Adirondack reds) went into the earth yesterday. When I stuffed my hand
in the burlap sack to draw them out one by one, I discovered some had begun

to rot. I’ll bet the same will happen to us when the hasp of our bodies
is unbolted, that is, if we’ll allow it: old men wrapped in cloth, stuck
in pine boxes during the days of dogwood, its white shining and the Judas tree

just past. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that above our heads there are lady’s
slippers puffed pink and yellow, the world, as round as wild sarsaparilla’s globe,
spinning and spinning, never really going anywhere new, yet full of vengeance

and mercy and the most foolish blessings of these potatoes we’ll harvest in July
and August, boiled, then mashed—a river of butter and milk, salt and sugar,
the bitter pepper that makes us want to gorge ourselves upon this one sweet life.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

The last two days out on the bay I observe
the tundra swans leaving the flat horizon
of this water, arcing over tidal pools
and the inescapable prairies of marsh grass.
You are on your mountain to the north, closer
to their calls as they wing their way away
from this estuary that saves them each winter.
After so many months of shifting land, of rising
and falling tides, their heavy bodies must ache
for a release, a reprieve to our comings and goings,
whether by boat or air or, oddest of all, by car,
which looks nothing like the way these birds travel.
It’s the unyielding tundra where they will give
themselves over to their own desires. I suppose
most of us need the solid earth beneath our feet
as we choose a mate. The undulating waters
of our hearts make it hard enough to remember
which flyway to follow, let alone how to spend
those transitory days in the half-light of summer
brooding over what we’ve made between us.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

What is life but fingers placed against blood’s rhythm,
some outward movement, the soul’s coming and going
like a kettle of kestrel that fly up against a ridge
and back out along its face? So much of this one life
goes to desire, the blue and orange feathers of our waking.
Migration is one way, following the ever-blooming, ever-
ripening path of the sun. Yet so much grief awaits—
whether we fly north or south, whether we settle ourselves
in the white-heat that roosts along the Gulf coast
or continue into the rainforest’s dark-green light.
The sun climbs out of the earth in the east and swims
across open water, while night’s westward stroke tugs us
into dream. Nothing travels in a straight line. That’s why
the moon returns each month, ascending the circle of its life,
then disappearing. Forgive me. I don’t want anything more
than this: the song of the goldfinch who comes to eat
of the cone flowers’ small dark seeds, its wisdom
in waiting out winter in one place.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

Blood shows you things: the way the rabbit fell
when the owl raked its back; the manner in which
my grandmother’s stroke shut down the left side
of her body; the tug of the ocean’s tide on my wife
as she bleeds with the possibility of making
yet another life. At twelve, when I cut my hand
cleaning the barbershop—straight-razor slipping
into the pad of my thumb—I became an ornate
fountain, the kind the wealthy put in the middle
of their circle drives, my own heart’s well pumping
onto the mirror. Blood fresh from the body
is so brilliant: deep hues of crimson.
But the longer it sits on the ground, or dries
against the wall or windowpane, the darker
it becomes, more brown than ruddy, like the life
that departs: husk hollowed out, rigid frame
with nothing to fill it.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

Yesterday was the dull gray of a river stone.
This morning snow covers our neighbor’s roof,
sky the color of an indigo bunting’s cap.
Fresh from sleep we reach back for summer’s green,
fecund and ridiculous. At our feeder a blue jay
cracks open a seed to warm itself on the fire burning
in the hull. To the west fields are bare and my mother
wears a heart monitor. She rises slowly from bed
to bathe, hope against hope that her heart won’t flutter
like the wings of a sparrow, the furious beating
of a finch as it tries to bring the body into balance,
an agreement with the wind, the rhythm
of the blessedly invisible air.

Todd Davis

 

mixed-species flock of winter birds in raspberry canes

 

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Villagers attending church, by Walter Sanders
Villagers attending church, by Walter Sanders

 

Dear Dave,

Lamar sits in his wheelchair
at the back of the church: Parkinson’s

propped in his lap like a toddler, bad baby
who crawls on this old man’s chest, pulls

his tired white head to the side
and whispers in his ear about lungs

falling in on themselves. Our minister reads
the words of the Psalmist, who assures us

about the place of the righteous and the wicked.
Lamar’s labored breathing lingers, rests

like a shawl on the shoulders of those of us
who sit in the next to last row. We can’t help

but wonder where the breath of God is, and why
a good man is treated so wickedly.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

Sun slowly burns away the gray tissue
of morning, and bees, who have spent the night
beneath the long flower of goldenrod, sway
with the stalk, stiff from cold and fog. Yesterday

a red-tailed hawk lifted from a tamarack to take
a small rabbit at the edge of the field. On this walk
I find owl pellets near a downed oak, as well as
the torn limb of a warbler, the discarded head

of a shrew. These are the beautiful deaths
of usefulness: one life to feed another, consumed
by the belly’s furnace, only to wake to heavy wing-
beat as it passes over the tallest spruce.

The best we can hope for is to scatter ourselves
across the darkest parts of the earth, rain relinquishing
these late flowers and our passing love, which mostly
lusted after the self, too often forgetting the sweet

tenacity of the bee, the waxen comb of delight.

Todd Davis

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems

Dear Dave,

The lake is half drained
and now looks like the mud
puddle of some enormous child.
Where water slid away fast, cracks
appear, as does the detritus
of our living. Geese find
the few places fish still swim,
and killdeer have set up home
near the cinderblocks and tires
that once served as nests
of another kind. Tree stumps
line the lakebed, solid despite
their years underwater. I imagine
this grove before any saw cleared it,
before the stream at the far side
was dammed, before this depression
in the earth accepted the weight
we filled it with. A blue jay
in an ash tree sneers at our efforts,
and I smell the harsh smell
of wet earth drying.

Todd Davis