Category Archives: Poetry

On a Day When 100,000 People Had Died, A Black Man was Murdered in Minneapolis, and War Continued to Rage

by Thomas Davis

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
elders had?

Insects are dying out all over the world.
Is this humankind’s wisdom?
Was Kafka right? Are we all insects after all?

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What Happens When You Get Old?

by Thomas Davis

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.”

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Gaia’s Song and Wisconsin People and Ideas

Thomas Davis

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.

I hope it returns to its printed format soon, but I and a lot of other good poets have poems in this issue: https://www.wisconsinacademy.org/sites/wisconsinacademy.org/files/WPI_Spring2020_F.pdf

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.

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All That Is Left

The primeval forest at the Toft Point Preserve

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

Underneath
undisturbed giant trees,
beneath the soil,
the mycelial web—
a fungi galaxy of life,
connects all the trees
together,
one species next
to the other for a reason—
a dependency for life.

Lichens drape
the forest floor,
even over the fallen trees,
covering them
with a green blanket.

Tree trunks grown
for four or five hundred years
climb into the clouds.
My heart seems to grow
at least as tall.

A bird’s song
I do not recognize,
plants I cannot identify.

The air thick with oxygen
and the icy breath
of a thousand Wisconsin winters
gathers around our ankles
as we stand in a primeval forest
on a small finger of land—

all that is left.

Note: Based on the scientific discoveries described by Peter Wholleben in The Hidden Life of Trees.

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You

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

You came to tell me
this morning
that he was gone,

but last night
when the dread came
and overwhelmed me,
I knew.

You see, love
transcends space and time.

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The Rain Stepped Softly

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

The rain stepped softly
over us last night,
kissing us with
sweet tenderness.

But we push her away,
telling her to leave us alone —
like the spoiled, unthankful
children we are.

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Poetry Hall Chinese American Poetry

Ethel Mortenson Davis has two poems in the new issue of Poetry Hall, an English/Chinese journal that is available in the United States and and China. A Chinese scholar translated Ethel’s poems, and they appear in English and Chinese. You can order the journal at amazon. It’s really inexpensive. The title of Ethel’s poems are “The Room” and “Snow Goose.” “Snow Goose” was written when we joined Francha Barnard in Egg Harbor at the library for a session on writing Ekphrastic poetry!Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 8.14.29 AM.png

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Seed

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

A Vision

Out of the fire,
with the splitting
of the cone,
a seed emerges.
Thunderstorms
bring it to the soil.
A new tree begins
it’s rapture.

Out of the fire
we have found
new pathways,
a new vision.
We bring the least of us
along in our wagons.
There are no slaves or rich men.

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The Roots of Trees

by Thomas Davis

Crawl down into the roots of trees,
and you will find fungi there,
and water drawn from the soil,
and chemicals will be carrying messages
to other root systems that lead
to other trees
that rise above the ground
and leave their messages into the sky
as they draw in breaths and sunshine
in order to convert energy
into bark, branches, and roots.

While you are underground,
be sure to feel the solidity of earth,
the movements that communicate
soil and rock are as alive
as the trees that tell each other
of danger
of opportunity
of when it is time for an old mother
to at last allow her progeny
to start growing toward the light.

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The Slowing

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

There comes a time,
when there is a slowing,
when the snow is too heavy
and too deep,

when I cannot put
the black harness
on the back of my little horse,
so I must walk it back
to the tack-room
through thigh-high drifts,

and that is when I catch
a glimpse of her
through the open barn door.
She is munching a mound of hay
from last summer’s days,
and it is the sound of happiness.

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