Review and Republishing of Todd Davis’s Poems: “Learning to Read” Vol 9.1 and “Some Heaven”Volume 8.1/8.2 Spring /Fall 2003
by Erin Schmiel
I love how easily Todd Davis expresses themes of spirituality in his quiet nature poems. He says, in “Learning to Read,”: “I understand that learning to read,/like so much of life, is about faith and doubt —/the possibility of one, the heaviness of the other.” In just three narrative stanzas we see the progression from the oblivion of the 5 year old narrator: “my joy when you told me/I was driving, too young to realize you held /the wheel”, to the responsibility of road markers: “signs /sprouted like goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace, and you/demanded I read them, pretending not to know/what to do if I didn’t.” The final stanza carries the reader forward from this scene and out into the world knowing that what has been said is as true for them as it was for the father and son.
In “Some Heaven” the narrator is a father watching his child pray for “some heaven/that has no fences,” after they find a rabbit “caught between the slats of the fence,” that he has had to kill. I feel he is asking for forgiveness, too, when he believes his child’s “prayer is right/ What more should heaven be? /A place made/ of wild carrot and dill…a warm October/day that never ends.”
These words cut me to the quick with their urgent, yet natural spirituality. I had to pause and say —yes— this is the way of it not only for the lives in the poems, for me the reader as well.
Both poems are republished below with permission from the author.
“Learning to Read” by Todd Davis
Before seatbelt laws and airbags began to pull
families apart, you let me ride up front, seated
between your legs. My joy when you told me
I was steering, too young to realize you held
the wheel below, was incommensurate with the act.
But what more does a five year old wish for?
On the back roads of Michigan, signs sprouted
like goldenrod and Queens Anne’s lace, and you
demanded I read them, pretending not to know
what to do if I didn’t. The weight of your words
was nothing like the impress of the declarations
written in bold black on yellow, or the infinite space
white made when placed on a metal so red
children at slumber parties would tell stories
of the dead whose blood colored it.
No, the weight I carried came from the letters
whose meaning I worked hard to explicate, trying
to understand how they offered either absolution
or extinction—our very future depending upon
how I sounded out S-T-O-P. Knowing now
you would have stopped whether I could read
the sign or not, I understand that learning to read,
like so much of life, is about faith and doubt—
the possibility of one, the heaviness of the other.
“Some Heaven” by Todd Davis
The rabbit’s head is caught
between the slats of the fence,
and in its struggle it has turned
so now the hind legs nearly touch
the nose—neck broken, lungs failing.
My boys ask me to do something
but see no mercy in my plan
to make sure the animal is dead.
At four and seven, they are so far
away from their own deaths
that they cannot imagine
the blessing a shovel might hold,
nor the lesson suffering offers
to those who have not suffered.
At bedtime, my youngest prays
the rabbit is in some heaven
where there are no fences, where
in death there is more than enough
to eat. He begins to cry, and we rock
until sleep’s embrace takes him
from me. Sitting on his bed, I know
his prayer is right. What more
should heaven be? A place made
of wild carrot and dill, sunflower
and phlox, fields the stretch on
for miles, every coyote full, every
hawk passing over, a warm October
day that need never end.