Poem of the Week | October 25, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Wayfaring” by Todd Davis!

Todd Davis is the author of seven full-length collections of poetry — Coffin Honey; Native Species; Winterkill; In the Kingdom of the Ditch; The Least of These; Some Heaven; and Ripe — as well as of 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 Midwest Book Award, the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Editors Prize, the Bloomsburg University Book Prize, and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Silver and Bronze Awards. His poems appear in such noted journals and magazines as American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Image, Iowa Review, North American Review, Gettysburg Review, Orion, Poetry Northwest, Willow Springs, Sycamore Review, Verse Daily, and Poetry Daily. He teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.

 

Wayfaring

In winter the titmouse sings
Peter, Peter, Peter,
renaming me for the story
I’ve been told and now
must tell.

Six days before solstice
we sleep late, wake
to a darkness we know
will grow.

Do all moments grieve
the passing of the last?

The frame on my mother’s dresser
holds a photo of a turtlehead
flower found creekside
in late summer: green stalk
and milky petals, a blossom
like a mouth gasping for breath.

What prayer do we answer
in living for another?

Time with you, my love,
slips like water from an eddy:
counterclockwise swirl
that foams past a fallen beech
set crossways in a stream.

My fingers fan air, release the ash
of loved ones, a cloud over
the place where the river
we fish in the valley
begins.

If my hand offends me,
I will befriend it, the reason
I hold the brook trout tenderly,
tangerine belly squirming
from my grasp.

When my father said,
God beats in our chest,
did he mean God lives
in our heart or simply
chooses to wreck it?

River voices are always
tempting me from beneath
the bridge. Would it be a sin
to tumble and become one
with the wash?

December light weighs
next to nothing: faint shimmer
like a bead of oil
in a flame-blackened pan.

It was April before you died,
a blood clot circling
your brain.

In the coldest months
the river slushes, slow,
furtive movements,
like your drooping eye,
the useless fingers
of your left hand.

This past October
we watched a storm-blown
tanager lose its way in migration.
That night I gave thanks
for the map of blue veins
in your breasts.

I’ve decided if my eye
causes me to sin, rather than
pluck it out, I’ll simply close it.

Stars waver in the dark, glistening
like dew on dimpled berries.

In your absence I repeat
the names of trees you taught me:
hop hornbeam and catalpa, syllables
like rain on a tin roof.

At this early hour, I still haven’t
heard a cock crow.
Like Peter, I’ve denied
the truth three times.

 

Author’s Note

This poem, like so many of my poems, explores loss. The loss of my father. The loss of my grandmother. My mother’s slow descent into dementia and Alzheimer’s. The inevitability of my wife’s, or my own, impending death. And in this exploration is an engagement with, an argument with, the Biblical faith of my youth, a speaking back to texts that I heard as a child. I suppose poems like this one serve as a form of expiation for me, as a means of moving toward acceptance, of embracing the present moment and the blessings that the transient present provides.

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