Poem of the Week | October 21, 2019
Todd Davis “Mother”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Mother” by Todd Davis!
Todd Davis is the author of six full-length collections of poetry—Native Species; Winterkill; In the Kingdom of the Ditch; The Least of These; Some Heaven; and Ripe as well as a limited-edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow. He edited the nonfiction collection, Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball, and co-edited the anthology Making Poems. His writing has won the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Bronze and Silver Awards, the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Editors Prize, and has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. His poems appear in such noted journals and magazines as Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Missouri Review, North American Review, Orion, Poetry East, Poetry Northwest, Sycamore Review, West Branch, and Poetry Daily. He teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.
After the animal that drank sound died, the world
lay still and cold for months.
She drank sorrow, bringing my face
to her neck. She drank the kingfisher’s
clicking, pileated’s knocking. She drank
the clatter the creek makes when it rains.
She drank frost heaves, widowmakers
descending in wind. She chewed leafduff
scratched away by the flowering of polygala
and violet. She lapped at the dark
cries of coyote and barred owl, rabbit
bleats devoured. Before wings disappeared,
she opened her mouth to the erratic
flight of bats. When I fell from the tree,
she drank the wound on my back, spooned
the sound of a rat snake eating mice
beneath the porch. She loved cricket chirp,
the metal of cicada scritch-scritching.
She swallowed the stomp of mules, the snarl
of dogs. She said the red moon, rocketing
the sky, was like kerosene on kindling,
a fire to illuminate our insides. I asked how
a river buries itself when it dies.
She laughed and drank the weariness
of such questions. I needed to be more
careful, to listen intently and learn
to drink better. It’s been months
since I conjured her voice.
Last winter my mother, who is nearly 85, fell in her home. While she had demonstrated a minor degree of memory loss before the fall, after the fall her short-term memory has all but vanished. When I read the lines by William Stafford that serve as the epigraph for this poem, I was immediately thrust into a magically real relationship with the animal-mother who has cared for me and who in many ways is unable to do so anymore. This is poetry as catalyst and catharsis, as an expiation that was needed and necessary.
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