Letter to Dave from the Karen Noonan Center on the Chesapeake Bay

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

Spring distractions

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems


Dear Todd,

The first azaleas are just beginning to bloom, with the usual
profusion of scent that would put a hooker to shame.
But who eulogizes the odorless oak blossoms, those caterpillars
in need of a spam-mail cure for erectile dysfunction?
The white locks of the bridal wreath bush are perkier by far,
tossing in the wind. I’m worried that if this cool, damp weather
persists, we might see another autumn without acorns.
Between rains, the carpenter bees come out to give my house
a thorough inspection. I’m reading about the convergent habits
of certain perennial wildflowers & a few species of walking sticks,
both of which make their seeds or eggs into fast-food bait for ants,
gambling that the ants will throw the inedible portions, packed
with their embryonic offspring, into the mother-warm midden.
How did slow-growing early bloomers & tree-eating sticks
both learn to exploit this bug? I gaze at the greening woods,
as I do so often, for clues of the original template — the once-
towering tulip poplars, white pines, American chestnuts. It’s like
trying to picture the naked body of a woman I’ve never met.
The Cooper’s hawks nesting half-way up the ridge emit
what we’d call chirps if they were songbirds
or notes of affliction if they were electronic angels,
placed for surveillance purposes among the crowd of leaves
cautiously exposing themselves to the rumored sun.
A red blur goes past: the throat of a hummingbird
hell-bent on drinking from some pink, inverted cup.

Letter with May’s Insatiable Hunger Tagging Along

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

Letter from Midsummer

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems


Dear Todd,

I wonder what air
& daylight mean
to the boletes holding
their brown platters up,
or to Indian pipes
with their white
swan necks?
I guess it’s dissolution
that they’re after
here aboveground,
where you need
some kind of hide
or cuticle to hold
the darkness in.
They’re hoping for
a fetid breeze or
brush of insects—
whatever they can get.
Just now, sorting laundry
fresh from the line
in my warm bedroom,
I reached into
a black sweatshirt
to turn it rightside out
& found the evening
coolness hidden
in its sleeves.

Our Forgetting

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