A baby wren
came to sit
in the burning bush
to show me
she has grown
into a strong bird.
With graceful gratitude
she came to show me
light in my dark world —
just as a matched pair of horses
pulled John Lewis
across the Edmund Pettus Bridge,
so he can be a light
in our black world
just one more time.
Doors at Chaco Canyon photograph by Kevin Davis (2/16/1982 – 7/21/2010)
“The Framing” a poem by Richard Brenneman
This is the anniversary of our son’s death in Poughkeepsie, New York from cancer ten years ago. This is always a sad day for Ethel, I, and our daughters, Sonja Bingen and Mary Wood, every year. This blog was started in honor of Kevin, who was a wonderful web designer, photographer, artist, and poet. This year we are publishing one of Kevin’s most iconic photographs, a doorway found at the Chaco Canyon ruins in New Mexico, and Richard Brenneman’s wonderful poem about the photograph, remembering someone who was deeply, deeply loved.
by Richard Brenneman
Ekaphrastic poem celebrating the Kevin Davis photograph, “Doors at Chaco Canyon”
Picture this --
seen through the lens of a camera;
eye sighting perfectly this line of sight,
image remaining after.
The photographer has entered into
this, his picture.
A framing frames the ancient remains,
frame within frame like stone ghosts
from the living to the not living.
During the day, the doors,
like sideways viewed Chinese boxes, point the way
to the sky, or a blank wall
where the lords of death
(or alternatively, the lords of life)
are lodged beyond, whether
in kiva, hogan, teepee,
pyramid -- the mountain of gods.
At night invisible,
you can barely see the framed gates.
Above, the moonlight,
a few stars shine bright:
Polaris, Sirius, Aldebaran.
The gods of old-time
have come for you --
you who framed this image.
Time into framing,
gate, window, doorway --
starlight seeps out
light from unseen life
in sunrise or twilight,
you who sighted this
in your view finder.
If we look at this image askew,
we can almost see you as shadow,
the dust motes, the whirling dervishes
slipping through the frame of time,
the ancient gateways
to join the lords of life, of death
to ascend timeless, bodiless
to the stars,
to become framed
as infinite starshine.
a loud crash
sounded against the house.
A flicker lay struggling
on the ground,
his life ending.
A beautiful bird
with speckled chest,
and red feathers
on his head
looked as though
his spine was broken.
I put him in a quiet
part of the garden.
His weak cries were fearful.
Later that day,
when I checked,
he seemed closer to death.
The next morning
when I went to collect him,
he was gone.
I want to think
he got up and flew
up to the top of my tree,
but probably a cat or fox
found him on their trek
across the country.
by Thomas Davis
The virus raging as so many elders die
and young people party, drinking into laugher,
risking brains that swell with fevers,
mini-strokes, hallucinations that skew apart their world;
The economy collapsing into unemployment
as bread lines form like they did in the Great Depression,
hollow eyes looking at the world with despair
even as social distancing, safety
is an impossibility as you stand in line, hungry and afraid;
The video of a black man saying, “I can’t breathe” twenty times
as a white policeman kneels on his neck,
hearing him calling for his mother out of his terror,
exploding into a nation’s consciousness the history
of white robes and hoods, the spasm of confederate statues
trying desperately to rewrite the history of military and social loss,
the Trail of Tears, a President throwing paper towels
as Puerto Rico mourns destroyed homes, flooded lives,
spirits concentrated by a hurricane to rows of graves;
The teetering of democracy as black, brown, Asian, Native people
stand in lines for hours to vote in rain storms, intense heat, cold
as sanctimonious voices praise the Lord and American exceptionalism
and celebrate cages on the border
where children, separated forcibly from their parents, cry,
and a flush-faced leader claims he is the One, the only one
who can solve the problems he has helped intensify;
Then the ecosystems’ warnings
as Antarctica glaciers melt, song birds cease to sing,
the Amazon Forest burns and shrinks from year to year,
migrations from wars, starvation, ethnic rage, dictatorial triumph
put words in politician’s mouths that celebrate
how great their country, party is;
and then the greed that celebrates the rich selling snake oil:
Come, give us tax breaks, roads, communication networks,
robots that feed our wealth-making machines —
rescue us when our venality threatens our prosperity
as the virus rages, the middle class collapses, small business people fail,
poor families lose their homes, the homeless starve,
mental health deteriorates, people march for justice,
the great extinctions
of insects, plants, fish, all living things grows ever more deadly
to the long-term health of the world and humankind,
and greed demands the glorification of greed
as the solution to the problems greed creates.
I name the crises.
The question is, what do we, as human beings, do now?
I received news that Phil Hanisota had passed away a few days ago. I mostly knew Phil as a poet, but his gentleness and intellect as a brilliant medical researcher and a man who was always helping others around the world, had an enormous impact on my life. I miss him fiercely.
by Thomas Davis
Some souls walk through this life, their eyes so bright
with all the good inside humanity
that gentleness is who they are, their light
a breath, a song that pulses ceaselessly
into the restlessness of humankind,
the anger, rage, hate, glory, love, and hope
that layers through our relatives and winds
into eternity’s kaleidoscope,
and though we smile and joke and gently laugh
to see them as they age into our days,
we never sense the coming choreograph
that lets us know that time is just a phase
that passes as we contemplate a soul
that touched our lives and helped to make us whole.
We saw how bad
the killing is
in this country.
But the many more
we did not see —
children, women, and men
in far away, hidden places,
and mud-filled swamps.
No one recorded
their cries for help.
has filled our land —
up to the withers of our horses,
touching the white wings
by Ethel Mortenson Davis
of new leaves
is like a carefully
with each musician
in exact harmony.
But we do not stand
Only Oriole gets up
and sings his splendid song,
dressed in brightly colored
In Syria babies are starving
even as vultures circle in the sky
looking at extended bellies
that are empty.
As helicopters thunder overhead
bombs explode, and who wins?
The vultures? Those doing the bombing?
The starving child? The starving child’s parents
who revolted for what they thought
was a chance for a better life?
The virus obliterating
the wisdom people once thought
Insects are dying out all over the world.
Is this humankind’s wisdom?
Was Kafka right? Are we all insects after all?
Afraid, Grandma started talking
about the two weeping willows in her back yard.
When the wind blows they move around
and make complaining noises, she said.
She said she was waking up late at night
and hearing them moving around in the dark.
In her early seventies she still loved
gardening and growing flowers.
Her long row of red and pink peonies
beside her driveway’s black cinders,
usually covered with crawling ants,
bloomed all spring and summer.
After she and Grandpa George had built their adobe house
putting earth-bricks together by hand,
she’d planted climbing rose bushes,
creating a rose arch in front of the front door.
Later, behind the willows she’d planted
after snipping twigs off a massive tree
growing beside her favorite fishing hole
at Schweitzer Lake and sprouting white roots in a glass jar,
she started a garden with concord grape vines,
strawberries, sweet corn, sugar beets, potatoes, lettuce, green beans,
and tomatoes bigger than tomatoes ought to be.
During late fall days, before the cold came,
she spent hours, florid face red and sweating,
putting the year’s harvest in mason jars.
When she finally let the garden go
after getting a job at Goodwill downtown,
the willows started worrying her.
She complained about them as if she thought
they were angry at her the way her neighbor was.
He claimed that when she and George
had built their house in the poor part of Delta
they’d put their porch and cellar
six inches into land he purchased a decade later.
Finally, one night when she couldn’t sleep,
she went out and tried to chop the tallest willow down
with a rusty axe from the coal shed.
When she discovered she’d grown too old
to manage that in the middle of the night,
she called an old man she’d known for sixty years
and had him chop down both willows
“for firewood to feed his wood stove.”
One of my favorite publications has, for a long time, been Wisconsin People and Ideas. For the first time the Editor, Jason Smith, has had to work with the Wisconsin Academy to put it out virtually rather than in printed form.
Wisconsin People and Ideas has a poetry contest every year, and the best poets in the state compete for the honor of appearing in the magazine.
My poem, “Gaia’s Song,” is on pg. 49. Door County poet Estella Lauter also has a poem in this issue as does Ethel’s and my good friend, Nathan Reid. These poems all won Honorable Mention in the poetry competition.
Of special note also is an article by Jude Genereaux of Door County about the Lac Courtes Oreilles Ojibwe radio station, WOJB. When, a long time ago now, I was President at Lac Courtes Oreilles Ojibwe Community College we had a close relationship to a radio station that was truly a different drummer in Northern Wisconsin.
I hope people will check out this issue and, just as importantly, join the Wisconsin Academy! It represents the intellectual capital so abundant in this state.