Sonnet 41

by Thomas Davis

We kissed his forehead, yellow, cold, inert,
sobbed our goodbyes, left his body, drove
to Poet’s Walk above the Hudson, hurt
beyond expression, where, on hills, small groves
of ancient trees are interspersed with fields,
a place where, Kevin said, he liked to go.

And as cremation’s fires consumed, annealed
his spirit to our spirits, as the glow
of July’s sun warmed flesh too numb to feel,
we walked where he had walked and tried to find
our balance in a world turned sad, unreal—
our son was gone, his smile, his wondrous mind.

And as we walked the wings of butterflies,
black mourning cloaks, danced through the summer skies.

At the University of New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque, where I am now being treated once a week, a healing bear greets patients as they enter the building. Marked with ancient symbols, shining black in the sun, Ethel and I stand before it every time we come to the Center. The major question in my mind at the moment, one that I cannot shake, is, why am I surviving my bout with bladder cancer while Kevin, only 28 years old, did not survive? I would have given him my life without a thought if he could still be present, thinking about butterflies that were such a constant, powerful symbol to him from the time he was a child to the day of his death when, as Ethel has written in a powerful poem not yet posted, a butterfly visited his hospital room so many stories up in the middle of the city. I understand there is no answer to such a question, and I am deeply grateful to have more years with Ethel, my children, and grandchildren, but both Ethel and I miss our son. This sonnet was written after our visit to Poet’s Walk Park on the Hudson River in New York. Ethel has also written about our experience there. After this moment we flew back home to New Mexico. Just over a year later we discovered my cancer. One of Ethel’s many photographs of the healing bear is below as a symbol of survival and strength in the face of devastating tribulation.

photograph by Ethel Mortenson Davis


Filed under Art, Essays, Ethel Mortenson Davis, Photography, Poetry, Thomas Davis

31 responses to “Sonnet 41

  1. I pray for your continued healing and recovery – physically and spiritually. Grief can be debilitating or freeing as we learn that all relationships are temporary except one, the Eternal.
    May this day be a day of ease, light and joy for you and Ethel.

  2. Oh my dear Thomas, I don’t have words. I want to offer comfort to you and Ethel but in my heart I feel for some things their is no comfort, there is just making it through each moment. Life has many questions, but few answers. I struggle to understand why I’m still here, while my husband and son are not, and like you I would gladly give my life for my son. I’m sorry that you now have to deal with your cancer.
    My thoughts are with you both

  3. J.B. O'Shea

    While the poem is beautiful, I can’t bring myself to click the like button. Life is truly a mystery, especially in its tragedies, and the way they seem to surround those who have had them in excess. My thoughts are with you and your family, and I hope you find some clarity to the questions you ask, or some distraction in good moments. Take care.

  4. I feel for you and wish you the best. This hits home with me. An extremely close relative had bladder cancer many years ago. The doctor said bladder cancer is less common/rare, but she beat it and every day I am so very grateful.

  5. Caddo Veil

    If it is possible to reach my arms through these words, to hold you both so tightly, to wet your shoulders with my streaming tears–I will never let you go, while I have breath. I pray that, in addition to the healing bear, you know beyond all question God’s Presence. So much love to you, Caddo~

  6. Bless you for the gift of this very personal and commemorative sonnet about the love of you and Ethel and Kevin. Bless you for the gift of this wonderful photo capture of that healing bear. I now carry these gifts in my heart.

  7. If only he could life up to his name physically, every time!

  8. Angela

    Your poem and post deserve a response so that you know that they touched my soul – but the words I don’t have, and they may not even be necessary.

    May love, light, your son’s soul and the colours of the butterfly’s wings be with you always.

  9. Prayers for comfort and healing, the Peace that transcends understanding…Love, Ellen

  10. I am at a loss for words. May you heal both physically and emotionally. There are things in life that I don’t understand, but there are those who believe we choose our own path before arriving on this plane, and that our children chose us as parents, as we did ours. May you find comfort in each other and in your memories. Love and light to you both 🙂

  11. sonjabingen

    “I am hoping that you are going to be ok dad,” love Sonja. Maybe, I’ll get my wish/prayer for atleast once in my life.

  12. tikarmavodicka

    Hi Thomas,
    Your sonnet and the journey you and Ethel are walking together right now has greatly touched my heart.
    There’s so much I feel I could say… but I just wish you both much strength, love, healing and comfort as you continue your journey for healing and health.

  13. Much love to you and your family, Thomas. You are all in my thoughts.

  14. In the brief time we have traded comments and visited each others blogs, you and Ethel have become my precious, dear encouragers and supporters. May I give some portion of that back by wishing you both strong, wisdom and peace in each day. Prayer and healing to you both, within and deeper within.

  15. Thomas and Ethel.
    You are both very much in my thoughts at the moment.

    You both have a strength I think I would find difficult to attain. Both of you are an inspiration to me and I thank you for this gift. I also thank you for continuing to share Kevin with us, he is forever present.

    And I wish you well with your treatment and hope the healing bear helps you too. What I have said seems inadequate but it is sincere.

    Christine xx

  16. There must be great comfort, of sorts, in the stong link between your son and butterflies.
    They appear to be flimsy, delicate creatures yet are far stronger than they look. At this time of year we have the arrival of butterflies who have migrated from North Africa. (They hitch a lift on merchant ships to help cross the Mediterranean.)

    You and Ethel remain in my thoughts. I hope your own recovery continues


  17. Julie Catherine

    Thomas, it’s hard to see to type through my tears, and my heart aches for you and Ethel, and for your family. I hold each of you in high regard, and you both hold a special place in my heart. This is a beautiful sonnet. Sending healing thoughts and prayers, gentle hugs and much love to you both. ~ Love, Julie xox

  18. A beautiful poem – the emotions here resonate.

    I am sorry to hear you are unwell, Thomas, and hope you will heal and gain strength daily?

    Best wishes

  19. Your poem is a beautiful meditation on an unanswerable question, and your comment after both breaks my heart and fills me with happiness that you are surviving to the love of your family and friends. Your son wishes this to be. Keep writing and making art and sharing it with us. This is what is meant to be.

  20. Holding you both in my thoughts.

  21. My heart goes out to you both, reading this touching sonnet. My thoughts are with you each day, though I don’t have a chance to tell you that very often. Thank you for sharing this, Thomas.

  22. Anna Mark

    This is a very meaningful, personal and emotional post. Thomas, for some reason the phrase, “my cancer” really popped out at me. It is a phrase that I, too, have used, but very reluctantly as if to distance my “self” from “it”, as if my possession of it (my cancer) is somehow a befriending of it. To some extent, I have befriended it, though it is a “friend” I hope to never see again. I hope your treatment is going well, as well as it can, and that the experience draws you nearer and nearer to what matters most to you in this life. Also, the bear…what a healing image: a creature we know to be so fierce is also so velvet and soft, a healer of our diseases. Much goodness and love to you and your family.

  23. Sending love and prayers to both you and Ethel xox

  24. Ina

    This poem touched me and the history behind it, the farewell of the butterflies. Best wishes.

  25. Beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time.

    Love and blessings to you both


  26. Again such honesty with your loss, your pain, your journey. And hopefully some comfort in sharing your dear son’s brief but exceptional life, especially his ‘smile, his wondrous mind’.

    I will always think of him when I see a butterfly and how he left the world more musical for others to dance, rather than drag, through it.

    Prayers for continuing improvement in your own health issues, Thomas.

  27. A beautifully written sonnet Thomas.
    I understand fully when you say you would have given your life in place of your sons as I would do the same but of course we can’t.
    I was just reading a book by Daisy Bates who dedicated her life to caring for Aboriginals here in Australia in the early to mid part of the last century.
    An old aboriginal woman was dying in her mia (bough shelter) in the bush and Daisy was attending to her. Her Totem was the grey kangaroo and just then a female grey kangaroo appeared a short distance away. The old woman through dimmed eyes saw the kangaroo: “My borungar has come for me” she said – “I go now”. She died soon after.
    It is all a great mystery – good luck to you Thomas.

  28. This is a very beautiful and moving poem Thomas. I wish you well in your treatment and healing for you and Ethel in your sorrow.

  29. twilark says exactly what I would want to say about this poem and your accompanying words. Thinking of you both.

  30. Except to add an acknowledgement of the skill you maintain in the face of your grief.

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