Journal of Writing & Environment


From the Archives: Todd Davis’s Poetry Volume 8.1/8.2 Spring /Fall 2003, and Volume 9.1 2004


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.

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