Tag Archives: December

The Great Lake

a photograph by Ethel Mortenson Davis


by Ethel Mortenson Davis

You were what was needed
this morning,
while the world was weeping,

flying along the path,
waiting for me to catchup,
playing your game
all the way to the edge
of the Great Lake.

You were what was needed
this morning,
while the world was weeping.
Ravens and Snow Geese, A Christmas Miracle

by Tom Davis

He felt half paralyzed, his legs and arms
inside a spider’s sticky web that made
each movement harder than it had to be.
He’d been like this for months, the darkness stained
Into his head so black he wondered why
he couldn’t give up, float into the bay
to find oblivion, a place bereft 
of loneliness and painful memories.

The day before he’d forced himself to walk
to Bailey Harbor’s streets a mile away,
but when he saw the lights and decorations,
he’d felt his blackness deepen, cold despair
a rising tide compelling him to turn
from human beings, bare boned trees, and move
to where the freezing skies along the shore
stretched gray above Lake Michigan’s dark waves.

He knew he ought to shake away despair
and find a life that he could live again.
He’d lived through decades wrapped in happiness
that seemed as natural as the breaths he’d breathed. 
Janelle, his wife, had kept him balanced, let
him go to work each day and then come home
to homemade bread, a house that shined, and love
so common-seeming that there couldn’t be
another way that life could ever be.

“We’ve got it good, Elijah,” she would say.
“Two poor kids who’ve escaped their roots and found
out who they are inside the love they have.”

And they had truly had it good, their days
filled with the hours he spent at carving birds
that danced and squawked and flew through every room
inside their house, his wife, the way she moved, a light
that chased away life’s shadows, brought alive
the art and craft of living real-life dreams.

But then the moment when reality
had shifted, shattering apart the myth they’d built.
He’d come home from the gallery and felt
into a block of bird’s eye maple, thrilled
to find a raven’s bright, brown eyes between a streak
of color that was perfect for a raven’s beak.
Caught in his carving, time became alive
to what he’d seen out walking in the woods.
The raven spirit in the wood seemed strong 
enough to guide his carving tools and hands
into a masterpiece that seemed alive.

He’d finished working on the curvature
that smoothed into the raven’s knife-like beak
when, suddenly, he’d heard Janelle cry out,
her voice so soft he’d paused before he’d put
the half-formed raven down and walked toward
the kitchen, following the sound she’d made.

How can life turn upon a moment?  Change
so thoroughly that what was sure was gone?

Collapsed upon the kitchen floor, her eyes
had been as lifeless as the wooden eyes
he’d tried to make alive in wooden birds.
He couldn’t quite remember what he’d done
when he had seen her lying there so still,
her death a presence in a place where life
and love had been so constant through the years.
He’d heard the siren of the rescue squad
and saw Jim Harmon’s beefy face look up
at him and tell him that there was no hope.
He must have called the rescue squad and tried
to see if he could find Janelle inside the eyes
that hadn’t closed when she had cried and fell.

He’d spent a year in mourning, living through
parades of friends that came to comfort him —
and then the eerie silence of a house
alive with birds that weren’t alive at all.
He couldn’t step inside the carving room
where, on the chair he’d been on when he’d heard
Janelle’s soft cry, the undone raven sat.
He couldn’t stand to think about that day. 

At first he’d told himself that life went on,
that time would heal the devastating hurt,
but lifetime love, despite promises
young lovers make to spark alive their love,
is rare, and living life once such a love
has ended through the knife twist of a stroke
is more a burden than continuance.

Now, though he’d gotten up at dawn convinced
he’d try to start to climb depression’s walls
and find some energy to face the day,
the heaviness he felt was just too much.
The reason for the life he’d lived was gone.
He’d thought that Christmas might be spark enough
To lift his spirit from depression’s grip.
Janelle at Christmas had swirled both of them
Into a pageant of activities.
They’d baked and carved and sang at church and worked
to give the poorer Bailey Harbor kids
a feeling that the season’s joy was true.
But now?  He sat upon the bed and stared
at what?  The floor?  The gray light filtering
through windows that he hadn’t cleaned all year?
He groaned.  He’d get up, make his coffee, try
to stumble through another dreary day.

Beside the carving room he stopped and looked
at where the raven from that fateful day
stood halfway done, its wooden eyes alive.
He’d not been in the room containing what
reminded him of what had changed his life
and sent it spiraling to emptiness.
He took a step toward a kind of bird
that wasn’t all that common in the fields
and woods he’d lived in since he’d come back home
from Viet Nam and left the hated war behind.

Inside the room he froze.  
“It’s Christmastime,”
Janelle’s voice said.  “Thank God it’s Christmas time.”

He wasn’t nuts, he told himself.  The room
was just a room.  He couldn’t hear Janelle.
Disturbed, he turned back to the hall, then stopped.

“You need to find a raven. Walk outside.”  

He didn’t hesitate, but left the room
so quickly that he stumbled down the stairs.
Heart thumping, frightened by what couldn’t be,
he put the coffee on to boil, then got
the toaster out to make a piece of toast.
He thought of how Charles Dickens’ Christmas ghosts
had changed a flinty heart into a soul
that celebrated Christmas every day.

Then, calming down, he shrugged, 
“Okay,” he said.
“A raven then.”
			He drank his coffee, ate
the toast, then got his coat hung by the door.

Outside huge clouds sailed gray above his head,
the wind so sharp it magnified the cold. 
He hunkered down into his coat and walked
around the house into the heavy woods
he’d walked for fifty years as snow began
to sting his face with flakes almost like hail.

He wouldn’t find a raven.  Ravens found
the northwoods sometimes; crows were residents
that cawed and rattled in their flocks through trees
and openings that seldom heard a raven croak.
He couldn’t really understand what geas
had led him on the day Janelle had died
to carve a raven’s eyes into a block 
of bird’s eye maple with the wood so rare.

He hadn’t walked a mile, though, when he caught
a glimpse of blackness startled through a stand
of young white pine, their branches dressed with snow.

A raven, slender, huge, its shaggy throat
of feathers slanted down into its beak
so black they shined, flared out its wedge-shaped tail
and landed, eyes cocked at the place he stood.
It couldn’t be.  It really couldn’t be.
Another raven flashed out from the woods
and landed by its mate without a sound.

He opened up his mouth.  He thought he’d ask
the ravens what they thought they were about.
That made no sense.  He’d heard Janelle tell him
to find a raven where no ravens lived,
and here were ravens in a blinding storm.

The weirdness seemed to call for some expression.
He hadn’t opened up his mouth when wings
exploded just above his head, the sound
so loud it sent the ravens leaping up
into the air, avoiding snow-white geese 
whose wings were laboring inside a storm
far north of where they should have ever been.

Amazed, he turned to watch the rising geese,
the raven-wonder driven from his mind.
Snow geese near Christmas like a magic tale!
He stood inside the storm and felt the clouds
move through the sky, dispersing light
into a wonderland of glittering snow.

He turned and walked back to the woods behind
his house, depression lost to the thoughts
of all the years of love he’d known and loved.
His memories of years of Christmases
invaded him and made him feel alive.

Inside the house he climbed the stairs
and walked into the carving room and looked
into the raven’s face.  In every room the birds
he’d carved through scores of years had shed
their woodenness and sang, scratched, winged, moved, blinked
and flew into the stillness that was theirs.

Janelle was silent.  Still, Ezekiel heard
her voice inside his head; he felt her love,
and sent his love to her at Christmastime.

Note:  This poem was inspired by a story told Robert Blei in "Albert Zahn: The Man Who Carved Birds," in Door Way: The People in the Landscape, Chicago: Ellis Press, 1981.


Filed under Art, Ethel Mortenson Davis, Photography

Winter Solstice

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

She rolled
up the mat,
turned out
the lights,
and we are plunged
into darkness.

December is like
living in a cave,
but the earth
will not hear of it,

unfolds her fetal position
in her darkened room
and allows light to emerge
longer in the morning
and afternoon—

Sunlight able
to warm our deepest bones.


Filed under Ethel Mortenson Davis, Poetry

Winter Near Telluride Colorado

a photograph by Mary Wood, our daughter



Filed under Art, Photography

Fiery December Sunset

A photograph by Sonja Bingen, our daughter


Filed under Art, Photography