Category Archives: Thomas Davis

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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Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award Goes to In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams!

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In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams has just been awarded the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award for 2019.  The award has been around since 1944 and is awarded by the Wisconsin Council of Writers.  There have been a handful of years where the Council did not believe an award was warranted.

My publisher, All Things That Matter Press, suggested that I ask my friends and followers to repost this news.  I am certainly excited about having this kind of validation for my writing and particularly for this novel.  Bennison Books published The Weirding Storm, my epic poem about dragons, kickstarting a writing career that I had largely put aside due to my work with the tribal colleges and universities.  I feel a great debt of gratitude to both Bennison Books and All Things That Matter Press for publishing my books.  At this point in time I have four novels, one non-fiction book, and two epic poems in print.

In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams is about a black fisher community that settled in the remote wilderness off the coast of the Door Peninsula on Washington Island in the 1850s.  Primarily about Joshua Simpson, who is fourteen years old at the start of the novel, it tells the story of an escape from slavery on a Missouri plantation and then the founding of a community on the shores of Death’s Door, a passage between the body of Lake Michigan and the tip of the Door Peninsula.

Under the leadership of the charismatic black Preacher, Tom Bennett, and the help of the Underground Railroad, Joshua, his family, and the other escaped slaves find their dream of New Jerusalem on the island, and then find that discovering paradise is only the first part of their journey.

This, for me, is a great, great day, and I certainly want to thank the Wisconsin Council of Writers.  They have made my year!

 

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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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Bramble, the literary magazine

Ethel and I guest edited the latest issue of Bramble, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets publication. Ethel’s art is on the cover. We want to thank by Christine Kubasta and Tori Welhouse for their help. This was a great experience, and we hope lots of people will look and see what fantastic poets Wisconsin has! If you want copies you can order them from amazon now, or you can read the entire issue online!

https://www.wfop.org/bramble-lit-mag

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Podcast 7 of Tribal College History

The Tribal College Journal has just published podcast 7 of Christine Reidhead’s sessions with me about tribal college and university history.  This podcast is primarily about Verna Fowler and I founding the College of the Menominee Nation in Northern Wisconsin.  The link:

Our History: Memories of the Tribal College Movement (Podcast 7)

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