Big-racked buck standing
in my neighbor’s yard today.
My gut gripped and breath
tightened as I froze before
stepping into the street to better
appreciate his appendages:
brown flannel branches,
glorious male crown.
Power in that stare,
daring me to cross.
He took two steps toward me—
challenge or question?
Legs ready to run,
I stood my ground—
we both did—and then
he turned and strolled,
dignity intact, to the back yard,
leaving me to absorb the day’s
first and surely greatest gift:
he’d considered and decided
to let me be.
Two huge bees on azaleas,
pinkish red in Sunday
dawn’s pre-rain glow:
fat spheres harvesting light.
I share this garden with ants
and cats and dogwoods white
in open-bursting April bloom,
having come five hundred miles
to witness Carolina in spring.
Astride this bench, I wait for
my friends to rise before driving
back past Pilot Mountain where,
on the way down, I watched clouds
meet ground and imagined myself
piloting a runaway truck, wind
shimmying the load while weight
forced the rig forward, gravity un-
gripping before I recalled escape
ramps carved into the bank,
and surrendered control to faith,
gossamer as fog.
This morning the sun dispels
daydreams of sudden disaster
and I embrace the illusion of peace
beneath magnolias and oaks,
where bees and blooms seem,
for this moment at least,
truer than terror,
safer than my next breath.
is still joy.
Oh, I still sometimes long
for the old days flaming
and raging till 3:00 a.m.,
guitars and voices filling
the night to bursting with odes,
elegies and hymns to gods
sacred and profane.
Laughter is now measured in teaspoons;
tunes are now words without music
but still songs for all that,
and my wild spirit rests here
on the russet forest floor.
Peaceful spirits are still spirits
and I need them all.
“I am ancient,” my poet friend moans
as if it were somehow regrettable.
I say we are ancient like stars
and can still shine as bright.
We tend our flame in tamer ways,
resurrecting ourselves daily in woods
and words, the stay against
death in life.
Eulogy for a Spruce
Twice taller than our house,
it made her fear storms,
while I slept fine in the long
shadow the big tree cast.
When neighbors said they’d cut it,
my wife called a tree man for advice,
then left that weekend for the woods.
The huge spruce, well rooted in clay,
would surely weather many
another Ohio winter gale.
I had almost escaped on my bike,
when I glimpsed the tree-man’s car
parked beside the yard and knew
the decision had now fallen to me.
He declared the spruce sound before
he backed up and frowned: It leans.
For safety, it should come down.
Lifting weights in the basement,
I heard the whump of its body land.
(My neighbor said it leapt from
its stump into air, narrowly missing
an eyewitness cedar that never blinked.)
I came and looked, then turned away;
couldn’t death have come another day,
years hence, from blight or lightning,
and not the result of human ways?
A naked white stump now marks
the place where it stood among mates.
I kneel, feel the resin coating its face
where the blade severed rings:
a good, long life cut short.
I rise and leave to mourn my fellow
creature that survived storms
to fall, sacrificed on the chance
it might hurt those same souls
whose lives it enhanced.
Contemplation for me begins at the writing desk each morning where I prepare myself with AA daily readings and the prayers of Thomas Merton before plunging into the day's writing. It continues after lunch in the woods where, among a certain mix of poplar and pine, I commune with whatever spirits come up through the rust floor or sail overhead. Sometimes poems come, sometimes not; almost always I'm more present than anywhere else. And then there's formal meditation after dinner while listening to the Gregorian chant of the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos: a whole body-mind-soul experience. Prayer before sleep completes the day.
Since retiring from college teaching, Ed Davis has immersed himself in writing and contemplative practices. Time of the Light, a poetry collection, was released by Main Street Rag Press in 2013. His latest novel, The Psalms of Israel Jones (West Virginia University Press 2014), won the Hackney Award for an unpublished novel in 2010. Many of his stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and journals such as Every River on Earth: Writing from Appalachian Ohio. He lives with his wife in the bucolic village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he bikes, hikes, walks, and reads religiously.
More on Ed Davis’ work can be found on our Links page.