At our granddaughter Sophia's wedding, Ethel wrote one poem for the wedding that she read out loud during the ceremony. A friend of our daughter Mary read another poem by Ethel that was written 55 years ago during our courtship. Then, at the reception I sat down and wrote a poem commemorating the event as the mariachi band played and people people danced as sunlight streamed out of the clouds for the first time all day. The poem Ethel read: Hope Dear Grandmother, today your great, great granddaughter is getting married to a fine, young man, and they promise their love is greater than their parents’ love and their grandparents’ love. They promise they will be happier than their parents were or their grandparents. And they promise their children will be loved more than all the ancestors put together. Dear Grandmother, this is their promise, and this is our hope. The poem from 55 years ago: How Could I Know? It looks to me as though you’ve been around, perhaps, since time began— and I have lived at least as long. Oh? Only that much time? I’m sure there was no life before for you or me. How could I know your face so well? As well as some old rock I’ve seen hang, clinging to a mountain wall, and I know what wave of brightness, or of darkness, to expect there waiting for me. You step and make some rounded move. I know beforehand which way to go. How could I know? Unless. . . You’ve been around, perhaps, since time began. I know I’ve lived at least as long. The poem I wrote: At My Granddaughter’s Wedding First the bald eagle above the bay, water dancing light on lines of waves, then cranes in the greening field, Babies and parents communicating with legs, moving necks, and wings in the sun, and then the rumor of storms brewing black clouds in the north, stirring with big winds. But then, after a night of worry, the ceremony was to be outside, the wedding day came, cloudy, a fifty percent chance of rain. But then the rain didn’t come. Wedding roses lined paths to the small wooden church. Then, the words as ancient as human spirits, were spoken by the bride and groom, and then the sun came out as the mariachi celebration began, as clouds thinned, and my granddaughter and her love danced as music rose into an evening sky— and love was everywhere. Everywhere.
Tag Archives: Door County
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!
All Things That Matter Press (ATTMP) has just sent me the cover for In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, my new novel about the black fisherman community that settled on Washington Island off Door County before passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. ATTMP is shooting for an early August release. After better than sixteen drafts, I’m ready!
by Ethel Mortenson Davis
moon of the blackberry month,
snags at me,
rips at my skin.
and get caught
in her sweet clutches,
but are overtaken
by a storm
with brittle, scratchy fingers
that blackens out the moon.
Now we must wait
for the harvest moon
as she ripens
on top of the waters.
Note: This is Ethel’s contribution to the moon-night organized by Francha Barnard and Write-On Door County.
by Thomas Davis
“The storyteller moon,” the old man said.
We sat upon the long-grassed beach and stared
Into a sky now dark, the fiery red
of sunset flung at stars the sky had snared
Into a symphony of silver stained
Into a river of eternal light
Above the song of waves that, lapping, trained,
Like time, into the shores of moon-struck night.
“No, not a storyteller moon.” He sighed.
“That comes just as the winter starts to howl.
That’s when you tell the stories that are tied
Into a tree frog’s peeps or black bear’s growl.”
Moon-struck, star struck, we heard the lullabye
Of waves absorbing us into the sky.
Last night Ethel and I traveled to Newport Beach where the Door peninsula looks out on the wild waters of Death’s Door, Buttes de Mortes. Francha Barnard had invited us to join her and other Door County poets to write poems beneath a full harvest moon.
On Saturday night the moon had been full and orange as it rose over Door County, but, after a summer that has seen the corn shriveled from drought, we drove up the peninsula to the park beneath cloudy skies that rained off and on. By the time we reached Newport Beach it was clear that none of us were going to take lawn chairs in the darkness down to the beach unless we wanted to ruin the tablets we’d all brought with us and got thoroughly soaked.
Instead we went to the ranger’s front office, talked awhile, and then, stymied from our effort to write poems beneath a full moon, listening to waves singing onto beach sand, we sat down and tried to write a poem nevertheless. Both Ethel and I, in the miracle of being with other poets, succeeded.
Terza Rima Sonnet
by Thomas Davis
As dip-si-doodled as a particle
Inside the zipping universal whiz,
I stretched into a rusty horse and peered
At cultured woods that felt the guttural,
Mute roaring of a monster’s metal fizz
That jawed into a garden’s winsome weird.
Then, as an old farm’s walls grew images,
And glass shapes whirled with colored curves of light,
I felt creation’s fires congeal and mold
Into a spirit drawn from circuses
Born from the striving of an artist’s flight
Through zoos of sight, sound, thoughts, the manifold
Of what could be if chaos suddenly
Became a rusty horse whose eyes can see.
a photograph by Ethel Mortenson Davis
photograph by Sonja Bingen
a photograph by Sonja Bingen
poem by Ethel Mortenson Davis
We walked Michigan’s shore
against gale winds,
churning up white foam
and throwing large rocks
at our feet
until a stand of cedars
offered warmth and stillness
from the wind.
lined the forest floor, softness,
respite from our difficult world.