Sonnet 45

by Thomas Davis

I name them: Sophie, Phoebe, William, Joe,
each one of them as individual
as early mornings in New Mexico
when shining light holds trees and land in thrall.
Joe, lost in circles only he can see,
and William, king of Legos, friend of friends,
Sweet Phoebe, bright as any sun, a sea
of light that’s always looking past the bend,
and Sophie, fledgling eagle nearing flight—
like William, first born, disciplined, and kind.

We’ve lost our son, and in our grief the blight
of memories assaults our days and minds,

but in our hearts grandchildren laugh and sing
and help us think we’ll know another Spring.

This is the last sonnet in the sonnet sequence I have been posting for the last several months. Kevin’s life (February 16, 1982 – July 23, 2010) was shortened by an unknown cancer that we only knew about for a few short weeks in June and July of 2010. Ethel and I traveled to Poughkeesie, New York to be with him during his last several weeks and was there during days of excruciating pain and small triumphs that ended in deep grief. The sonnets were mostly written as our beloved son lay dying as day passed day, and time’s march brought us, finally, to his death. They were written as my way of trying to deal with an impossible, unbelievable, unacceptable time. The last sonnets in the sequence were written after Ethel and I had returned to New Mexico.

Ethel has written extensively about this time too. The last poem she posted on fourwindowspress, “In the Night,” was written in a cancer ward hospital room. Some of her poetry foresaw the nightmare to come; other poems were written during Kevin’s illness. A few were written in the year and a half since we came home.

I hesitated to put these sonnets out for the wordpress world to see. Should you publish anything so raw and filled with horror and grief? In the end I am grateful I went ahead and started posting them. I am incredibly busy as Dean of Instruction at Navajo Technical College, all of us have responsibilities to our families, and wordpress can devour time, so I seldom answer the many many comments put on our blog. I have this need to try to say something meaningful, and that takes time, and if I spent that time responding to comments I would have no time to read other poets. That would make my life poorer. But the truth is that comments placed with love beneath each sonnet has been deeply moving. They have helped Ethel and I keep on keeping on, and though some days you wonder why we humans keep doing that, the answer is contained in words and voices that connect us to one another.

When this sonnet was written in August of 2010, I could tell the impulse to write sonnets about the sequence of events and emotions accompanying Kevin’s illness and death was waning as the inexorable demands of living kept dragging me through my days. When I sat down one evening and wrote it, I knew this was the last of the sequence, the reason, in the face of all our tragedies, we keep walking this good earth. A human life is not forever. We see sunlight for a day and laugh without realizing the joy we are experiencing, and then cancer or some other illness enters our lives, and we face the boundary we cannot see past. At that moment we have so little left. Pride and dreams of the future that have ticked out the clock of our lives mean less than they did before. Yet, the voices of those who have loved us and whom we have loved sound deep inside our humanity and become life’s reason, the meaning for who we have been and who we are at this moment.

I have been battling bladder cancer since it revealed itself this winter. My prognosis is positive, unlike Kevin’s, but this is a sobering time. Not only have we been with our son as he died, but my own mortality is as raw in my face as his mortality was as he slipped into a coma from which he never awoke. At such moments you worry incessantly about the closest people to you. You also wonder if you have left any legacy at all. You want to make sure the lives you have so deeply cared for are going to experience laughter that denotes joy they do not realize they are experiencing. Have you done enough? Has your life been honorable through your days? And you think about your father, who is gone, and mother, who still goes at the word, go; the love of your life; your now gone son; your wonderful daughters, and your grandchildren cusped on making themselves who they will become.

And inside your worry the New Mexico sun shines with the high desert’s magic, God’s magic, blackbirds sing liquid songs, you wake in the morning with your wife of 44 glorious years beside you, you know that you will talk on the phone to your daughters before sunset, and you hear your grandchildren in your head dancing through their prom night or chasing a kite bobbing high in a springtime sky, and you know that life is more precious than you have known and that when it is all over, you will know, in those last moment, that you have been loved and have loved. What else matters? What else truly means at the end of a long, glorious day?


Filed under Essays, Poetry, Thomas Davis

24 responses to “Sonnet 45

  1. Thomas,
    This is a heart wrenching post and I can neither think of words with which to reply nor quell my tears. Enough said – I am thinking of you all and have learned much from what you have said here


  2. Julie Catherine

    Thomas, it’s hard to type through my tears … for your beautiful sonnet, for the loss of your wonderful son, for your own health situation this year – and for the anguish that it so palpable in both you and your dear Ethel. I’m honored that you entered my little world ….. xoxox

  3. tikarmavodicka

    Hi Thomas,
    I have found this sonnet of yours and your post most moving and reassuring.
    It reminded me of all the poems I wrote when my son was stillborn almost five years now.
    We all have our ways of grieving and I know for myself my poems were as much to honour my sons memory as they were a help for me to work through my own grief.
    I know how much I struggled knowing that was my only chance to have a child and it was lost, so I can’t imagine how much more intense it must have been for you all. I am left feeling the deepst respect for you all.
    I take much strength from this post as you continue to embrace life and all it brings to you in the smiles of your children and grandchildren and the memories of your son.
    You and Ethel prove life can indeed go on despite the sadness and pain and life is worth going on for when all seems without hope or reason.
    Your beautiful sonnet and your post for me are a triumph in the face of adversity and shows real beauty in the face of life worsts tradegies.
    Your words will remain with me for a long time I think especially on those days when strength wants to go on holidays.
    Thank you very for sharing such a personal and precious part of your life. I can only wish you and Ethel and your family all the best and thank you for reminding me of the beauty and strength there is to be found even on the darkest days.
    Tikarma. xxx

  4. Thomas, this is the second post on this subject that I have read today. It is deep, profoundly real, and thanks for sharing the reality with me. I need to answer the questions of how I will better spend each day impacting the time, understanding that, it runs out also.

  5. Ina

    Hi Thomas and Ethel

    all of the poetry that you have written here on wp about the death of your son has had a special meaning for me as it reminds me of my child that due to circumstances was not given a chance to live. To have had a child for 28 years and then loose him to such an illness, I can not imagine what it must be like. And now you are facing the cancer again…
    As a new grandmother I can relate to the joy grandchildren can bring! I hope you will enjoy them for many years to come.

  6. Caddo Veil

    I don’t know what I can say that won’t sound, well, stupid. Thomas, your words are so terribly beautiful–terrible, because the pain wrenches my heart each time I read about your loss of Kevin; and beautiful, because every word is filled with truth and the choice to “press on” with life, and appreciate it–the moments, and the loved ones–all that gives life meaning and value. God bless you and Ethel, and all the kids–Much love, Caddo

  7. . . . where are the words? Or, maybe the words are here, I just can’t find the way to arrange them so what I feel is communicated — but then, maybe I’m intimidated by your beautiful work of words. What a work of words!

  8. Thomas, your words are so filled with love, sorrow, honesty, poignancy, wisdom, truth, pain, joy, and human experience – one can’t help but feel love for you and Ethel and your family. I reach out with a warm hug for you, and am thankful beyond words for the experience of coming to know you on WP.
    This last sonnet is so touching, and somehow it comes full circle as you write about your grandchildren – and the full lives they have ahead of them. And who could ask for better grandparents than you and Ethel!
    Wishing you improved health and complete success with the treatments you’re undergoing. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you and hold you in my thoughts and prayers.
    Much love,

  9. belladonna23

    life is so cruel but nothing as cruel as the poet knows it.
    And that is why we write. I too have lost a child for unknown reasons, a parent to a horrible and unmerciful disease, and too many others that I would like to name. All of which, for all my sorrows and the people I have loved and lost, I write for, and all of which I publish publicly. It seems almost sadistic to display such fresh wounds (or the ones that never healed) but I have learned to see it as strength. Hold on to the past. Hold it close to your heart for just a moment. And let it go.

  10. Reblogged this on Becoming is Superior to Being and commented:
    . . . I have been following Thomas Davis’ blog and feel so fortunate to have found his blog. With billions of humans on this earth, it’s not easy to connect with poets who express the human experience so worthy of being a poet’s poet. Thomas can open the door to why we exist!

  11. You and your family touch me deeply. Thank you.

  12. Elizabeth Herron

    What else can we do but feel it all, the beauty and the horror, the pain and the deep pleasure. There are some that might shy away from such depth of feeling out of their own limitation and fear, but I, for one, admire and respect both of you for your ability to stay close to the truth of your being and give its gift to all of us. Many, many blessings.

  13. Ron Ireland

    So very beautiful

  14. Love is, truly, all there is; nothing else even comes close.
    “Live each day as though it were your last for one day you will surely be right.” Breaker Morant…

  15. My initial response was “Oh Thomas” as tears spilt from my eyes. I wept for you, for Ethel, for Alazanto and if I’m to be honest, for myself.

    I think of your son as Alazanto because that is his artistic name, and that is how I know him. I don’t know your Kevin, but I can and do go to Alazantos web site and see his gifted creativity, see the dedication and joy he brought to his work. My son had a creative persona, I use this name as part of my password so I type it every day. It’s my way of honouring his artistic talents.

    I understand and respect your knowing that this particular collection of sonnets is now completed. I feel very privileged to have read both the sonnets, and your heartfelt, deeply personal explanation of the completion of this phase of your work.

    I’m pleased to read your treatment is going well.
    Take care my cyber friend
    With hugs to you and Ethel

  16. extrasimile

    These sonnets, these thoughts you add at the end, make me wonder if there isn’t a poetry beyond poetry—the other side of silence—something distilled out of the shear necessity of existence…
    Something to follow this—
    For within the hollow crown
    That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
    Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits
    Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
    Allowing him a breath, a little scene…

    I have quoted this line from Garcia Lorca to you before. Truth is, I have it in my mind quite a lot, the reality of the ‘Duende’.
    Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odor of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.
    That odor of a child’s saliva…

    • Jim, you are the essence of being a poet. Your knowledge always astounds me, but more to the point, the way you use your knowledge to highlight what should be highlighted is even more amazing. Lorca, of all poets, in response to Sonnet 45. A wind of spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents…announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things. Amazing words; amazing comment. Thank you.

  17. fivereflections

    beautiful sonnets – they stir on the winds of time, of a love only survivors know.

    thank you for sharing them – and hurry up and get completely well !
    my deepest regards for you and your wife
    David in Maine USA

  18. Thomas & Ethel,

    I’m so glad to have found you on WordPress too…
    The support you’ve given me has been overwhelming, and I can’t thank you both enough.

    I think it’s wonderful of you both to post these sonnets for us, I’ve yet to know real loss in my life, so I take these experiences and thoughts with me through your words. I think you’ve said it all when you say “What else matters?” – I really believe that nothing is as poignant as the love and strength people can draw from one another.

    All the best to you,
    With love
    Eve xxx

  19. Anna Mark

    I have no doubt that your poems, and other words and images expressing deep grief, have a place on WordPress, and I am so thankful for them. You and Ethel have left a legacy of love, I think. How common is it for a Blog to mean so much to so many people? There is a love here which is pure and, dare I say it, Godly. I think so. Humble, genuine, smart, caring, honest…these are things people see and feel here. I am sure you children and grandchildren also feel it. Carry on!

  20. I have read through this–both sonnet and your reflection–a few times, and have come back with hopes of finding words that can really express how moved and affected I am by them…but sometimes, even though a writer myself, emotion and empathy and compassion have me struggling for words. Your sonnet opens with such delightful descriptions of your grandchildren, magical and precious, their spirits shining out from your verse. But as in the world, light is contrasted by dark and visa versa, what is found often comes out of what is lost, and gratefulness is the most powerful way to heal from grief. I know I am not alone in feeling so grateful to you and Ethel for sharing some of the most difficult moments of your lives, always with grace and love in your words, and a sense of hope that affects far more than your own personal healing as you remind us all how precious every second of life is. And that whenever we ask why, ‘the answer is contained in words and voices that connect us to one another.’

    Blessings to you, Thomas, for a return to full health, and to Ethel, and to all your family. Love and hugs, Diane

  21. Wonderful sonnet honoring the love shared with those wonderful grandchildren and wonderful post written to share your emotional journey from despair to joy in giving and receiving love, no matter what!

  22. I feel blessed to have been invited to share your life. If there is a reason, then this is certainly a part of it too. Thank you.

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