Category Archives: Thomas Davis

Christmas Day: Sledding on the Mountain

by Thomas Davis

 We drove Grand Mesa’s unpaved, snow-packed roads
 Around its hairpin curves until the banks
 Of drifts were high enough to stop the plows.
 Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins slammed
 Car doors and shouted so their voices echoed off
 The slopes and cliffs that soared into the sky.
 Then “food enough to feed an army,” sleds,
 Toboggans came from car trunks as the day’s
 Festivity spilled out into the winter cold.
 My Dad and Uncle dug into the snow
 To make a fire with driftwood, branches found 
 Down in the canyon as we’d driven by 
 The stream that gurgled songs beneath the ice.
  
 Then, looking down the road toward a bank
 That lurched uphill before a hairpin curve,
 The oldest of my cousins laughed and jumped
 Onto her sled, her head downhill, and slid
 Like lightning flashed into a coal-black sky:
 The slope so steep she flew, the hill of white
 A half mile down as solid as a wall,
 The road beneath her hard and slick as ice. 
  
 Her mother, Aunt Viola, laughed to see 
 Her fly toward the snowbank wall as I
 Could hardly breathe to see the tragedy
 Unfolding as the sunlight glared into my eyes.
 My eyes began to hurt.  She had to crash
 Or slam into the wall of snow so hard
 She wouldn’t be my cousin anymore.
  
 But, as she hurtled down toward her doom,
 She dragged her legs behind the racing sled
 And turned the blades before she hit the hill,
 And everybody who had come to watch
 Began to yell when she rolled off the sled,
 Popped to her feet and shot her arm into the air.
  
 When, after other cousins dared the hill,
 I hesitated, swallowing to see 
 The downhill slope, my younger brother jumped
 Ahead of me and joined into the fun.
 I stood above my sled and felt my heart
 Quail, staring down toward the distant bank
 That still seemed solid as a concrete wall.
  
 I froze and couldn’t move until my Dad, 
 Behind me, got me on my sled and pushed
 Me off as cold and snow and light became
 A blur of flying, flying down the road.
 I flared my legs behind the hurtling sled
 And tried to slow down as I turned the blades,
 The running sound beneath my stomach, snow
 A cloud of ice as I rolled off the sled
 And came up, sunk in snow up to my hips,
 And shouted with my arm up in the air. 

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Warning in a Dream

by Thomas Davis

I woke with his face still in my head, 
 a handsome young man who looked something like 
     the oil drilling roustabout
 who had lived next to my parent’s house when I was a kid
 rough around the edges with startling blue eyes.
 When he spoke, though, his voice 
     was like the classical music 
 on vinyl records I bought as a teenager 
     when I wasn’t listening to Simon and Garfunkel
 or a country and western star my parents really liked.
  
 “He won’t be like most people expect,” 
     he’d said in the dream.
 “He’ll come out of a tower as opulent,
 and filled with human hubris, as the Tower of Babel,
 shining even when no sun is in the sky,
 and when he speaks, great throngs will gather
 even though pestilence is raging,
 and their shouting and adulation will stir winds 
     spreading disease
 and fan it into the most remote parts of the land.
  
 “He won’t drive around in a beat up, old pickup 
     like many of his followers,
 but will sail in a huge, black limousine fancier than 
     most people’s houses,
 and he’ll use grievance and insult to stir masses 
     that march to Sunday church
 where they worship a humble man, who championed 
     the poor and downtrodden
 and said fat cats had as much chance 
     getting into heaven
 as a rich man had of getting a camel 
     through a needle’s eye.
  
 “And as pestilence spreads and poverty grows 
     out of pestilence,
 dissension and intolerance will enter into people’s spirits,
 and chaos will churn into an earth
 beset by destructive storms, floods, droughts, 
 and great forests burning, spawning tornadoes of flames,
 disasters creating wailing and despair 
     even as the ocean rises
 and voices speaking prophetic warnings 
     can barely be heard above endless tumult.
  
 “O, he won’t be dressed in red or have horns 
     or a pointed tail.
 He’ll wear expensive suits and act like a common man
 with a whirlwind voice singing resentment and anger
 and the exquisite joys and promise of human greed.”
  
 As I woke up the man, looking nothing like an angel, smiled,
 and I felt disoriented,
 wondering if I was waking up, or was trapped, somehow,
 in a continuing dream’s fog. 

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Meditation on Ceremonies of Beginnings Released by Tribal College Press

Tribal College Press has launched Meditation on Ceremonies of Beginnings! The book went up on their site, https://tribalcollegejournal.org/buy-meditation-on-ceremonies-of-beginnings, yesterday. I have emphasizing the Tribal College Press site for purchases because any purchase here goes to help the tribal college movement out through work that the Tribal College Journal does with all of the colleges.

To me, at least, this is the most important book I have ever written, as accidental as it is in some senses. It represents decades of work for all the tribal colleges and specifically for the colleges that I worked directly for over much of my life. Imbedded in the book also are all the sacrifices Ethel and my children, Sonja, Mary, and Kevin, made during the years when I was working so hard to make so many things happen of American Indian communities and students in individual communities and nationwide. I also want to celebrate Ethel’s magnificent pastel the press used for the cover.

I received my first copy of the finished book at the house yesterday, and I was surprised at how much emotion it generated in me. The tribal colleges and universities and international indigenous controlled institutions of higher learning are so important! All of us need to reach out, if we are not American Indian people, to the original people of this land and celebrate them and feel the power of what they and their communities have to offer the world. I hope that in the pages of this book of poetry both Indians and non-Indians can find the spirit of the tribal colleges and universities and then become inspired to support them in some concrete way. They are still among the poorest funded colleges and universities in this country even though they are doing God’s work in some of the poorest places in the United States.

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New Cover for my new book of poetry was just finalized!

Meditations on the Ceremonies of Beginnings is a book of poetry developed over decades as I played my small role in the tribal colleges and universities and world indigenous nation’s higher education consortium movements. Tribal College Press has announced it will be released in late November. The cover design just came in! The drawing is by Ethel Mortenson Davis.

You’ll have to enlarge to cover to read the writing, but I am especially excited about what Carrie Billy, one of the great leaders of the tribal college and university movement, and Kimberly Blaeser, on the most important Native American poets in the United States, say about the book.

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I Name the Crises

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?

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To Phil Hanisota, My Friend

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.

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All Things That Matter Press Offers a New Contract

Ethel and I were at my daughter Sonja’s house. She, Ethel, and Joey, our non-verbal autistic grandson, were sitting in the living room talking about the difficulty Sonja was having dealing with Joey’s new high school. Then, looking wistful, Sonja said something to the effect that she had been looking for books that Joey could relate to where the hero was like him. She’d only been able to find one book that sort of was like that, she told Ethel and I. Looking at him, with him paying attention to what she was saying, she said that you’re smart enough to learn, aren’t you Joey.


Afterward I got to thinking about what Sonja was saying. A little after that I sat down to start a novel about a non-verbal autistic boy who is a hero. The writing did not go well at first. The first chapter, reviewed for me by Sonja and Emma MacKenzie, a writer friend, was pretty bad. But, as usual, I kept at it. Ethel kept encouraging me. The result was a novel, Apples for the Wild Stallion. Ethel gave me the title name.


Yesterday All Things That Matter Press sent me a publishing contract for Apples for the Wild Stallion. It always takes awhile between signing the contract and actual publication, but I’ll be especially happy to see this particular novel in print.


The truth is that human beings all have different abilities and gifts. Humans are so good at discrimination, as the events in Minneapolis right now so painfully illustrate, but the truth is that Joey is a marvelous human being. When he smiles Ethel and I feel like the sun is coming out after days of rain. He is worth paying attention to and loving. He is a hero, like so many of the people who face terrible discrimination in their lives. He deserves praise, not the looks he and his family get when they go to a restaurant, and his arm goes up or his head shakes in a way that makes some of those eating in that place uncomfortable.


So, this novel is for Joey, and, in a sense, for all of those like Joey who have lives that are important in spite of the small ideas in other people’s heads.

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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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