Tag Archives: narrative poetry

Cougar

by Thomas Davis

The cougar, tawny shadow in the rocks,
Moved stealthily toward the maple grove.
Lake water glinted as the noisy flocks
Of geese stormed from the shelter of the cove.
The blinding sunlight still allowed the moon
To sail, ghost-white, into the dying afternoon.

Far out, a dozen miles from land, the swells
Of rocking waves beneath the tiny boat,
A man begins to celebrate and yells,
Emotions unaware of how remote
He is from land, the glistening chinook
Caught by the white bone of his hand-carved hook.

The winter’s done, he thought. At last it’s done!
He reached down for his paddle as a haze
Crept from the north and dimmed the western sun.
He felt a change inside the rolling waves
And saw how far he’d traveled from the trees
That shivered from a sudden, chilling breeze.

The cougar tensed its body on a ledge
Above a trail deer followed to the lake.
All day it fixed its eyes upon a hedge
The deer would file around, the bloody rake
Of claws in deer flesh promised in the way
It waited patiently throughout the day.

Clouds scudded black into the evening skies
As choppy waves began to spray the wind
Into the man’s cold face and reddened eyes.
At last his mind began to apprehend
The danger in the darkness of a night
Directionless without a hint of light.

A doe and fawn came through the hedge and stopped.
The cougar did not move. Time froze. The doe
Kept staring at the ledge. At last ears dropped.
The cougar watched the fawn, its cautious, slow,
Small movement made toward the cougar’s claws
Retracted, still, inside its twitching paws.

The mother snorted at the fawn. It flinched
Toward a maple trunk. The cougar sprang,
Its body twisting in the air, jaws clinched
As doe and fawn leapt through an overhang
Of cedars as the cougar hit the ground
And filled the silent woods with snarling sound.

Inside the rhythm of his paddling
The man began to dream of children’s eyes.
Outside the wind was constant, rattling
The thick bark walls he’d built, the haunting cries
Of winter deprivation in the breath
Of little ones too young to face their death.

Hours passed. He fought the waves. The shore
Somewhere inside the darkness beckoned him.
He dug into his tiredness, past the core
Of who he was, his perseverance grim
Enough to face the dance of spirits howled
Across awareness where disaster prowled.

Then, suddenly, the boat hit land. It threw
Him backwards. Lying still he felt life surge
Its song into his beating heart, the brew
Of wind and waves no longer like a dirge
Of doom, the willow basket full of fish—
Fulfillment of his family’s anxious wish.

The cougar’s eyes were fire. The man had placed
The basket on the pebble beach and pulled
The boat above the water when he faced
The cat, its eyes and crouching body bold
Beside the basket with the fish, it’s ears
Laid back, it’s growling stirring ancient fears

Of children, grieving with their mother, left
Alone inside a wilderness, the man’s
Life gone, their futures suddenly bereft
Of all the dreams he’d fashioned from his plans.
The cougar’s eyes were suns, a universe.
The man waved arms and shouted out a curse.

The cougar turned and grabbed a fish, the night
A darkness swallowing a shadow bled
Into an emptiness devoid of light.
The man stood frozen as the cougar fled.
At last he got the basket, climbed the hill,
The cougar in his life-force, tense and still.

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The Power Wagon Chugged Like a Snuffling Bear

by Thomas Davis

Wheels churned down through snow layers
until they reached hard ground,
and then the dark green cab and truck bed jumped
forward, stopping and lurching as it slowly made
its way across cactus flats toward a hill nestled below
a higher hill where aspen provided a place
where we could pitch tents and build a campfire.

There were two of us, Howard Johnson,
a tall, raw boned kid whose uncle, Jeff Burns,
was the government trapper,
a man who caught mountain lions for delivery to zoos,
and I, more bookworm than mountain man.
Howard had decided to go hunting in Snyder Flats,
and I’d eagerly gone along, excited to feel the bite
of winds that could carve drifts six feet high
when snow mostly-covered sagebrush on flats empty of trees.

When the power wagon finally climbed the hill
the aspen grove was dark with evening shadows.
By the time we had tents pitched and a fire going
the moon was waxing full with a silver silence
echoed from the universe’s blanket of stars.
By the time we crawled into down sleeping bags
neither of us had said a word to each other for hours.

We woke before dawn when first light smudges
dirtied hill horizons east of where we were.
Howard was in a good mood, starting the fire with twigs,
joking about how crazy we had to be
fixing frozen slabs of bacon and bread over a campfire
when we could have been crawling out of bed
in a house filled with civilization’s conveniences.

A half hour later, bellies full, fighting cold’s numbness,
we were climbing the hill behind our campsite,
fighting through snow that sometimes came up to our waists.
Howard was stronger and broke trail,
but my breath was sharp as I struggled through a morning
so cold air felt like shards of shattered crystal.

At the hill’s top we walked out on rimrock towered above a canyon.
Below us drifts danced with swells in a landscape frozen into waves.
We stopped and felt wilderness’s immenseness.

“Think we’ll see any deer?” I asked. Howard snorted.

“This is Snyder Flats,” he said. “We might even see a grizzly.”

I nodded, then we set out again, keeping close to the canyon rim,
fighting the sun’s glare off glittering snow.
Hours passed. Even Howard was getting tired and irritable.
Not even a jack rabbit exploded from cover.
Noon came and went; the sun blazed orange, yellow, and red
over the western horizon. Cold became more and more intense.
By the time we found our camp again stars were out
and our feet and hands were numb from a breeze
sweeping across flats up into the hills.

The next day was like the first day. We walked and walked,
but if life was in the universe, it was hiding.
We had told our parents we would be gone four days,
and we’d have to spend most of the fourth day
lurching our way down the hill, through the flats to the dirt road
that would lead us back to Grand Junction and home.
Neither my Dad nor Jess Burns had approved of going to Snyder Flats,
so if we were late they would come looking for us,
and when they found us we’d both have to face wrath
that would resolve itself into chores best avoided.

As daylight began to wane we knew we were too far from camp.
We’d plowed through snow with a ferocity that burned lungs
and made even Howard complain about how tired he was.
By the time we gave up hunting and faced the fact
that our grand trip to Snyder Flats was an unredeemable bust,
we were miles from camp, half lost, and on the other side of the canyon
behind the hill that sheltered the hill with our supplies.
As the full moon came up, discouraged, half scared,
we were trying not to fall as we felt our way down the cliff’s face.

I had just managed to use cracks to climb down ten feet of sheer rock
to stand on solid ground when Howard grabbed my arm.

“Tommy,” he whispered.

His voice had an urgency that made my heart thump in my ears.
I looked toward where he was pointing.
Not forty feet away an immense grizzly was shambling
toward where we were standing.
Howard seemed frozen. We both had guns,
but the bear seemed to be the size of two bears.
The moon was so bright you could make out its hump
as it moved toward us, head low to the ground.

What in the hell have I got myself into now? I asked myself silently.
My stomach churned. Queasy. Unstable.
Howard stared at the bear mesmerized.
God let this be all right, I said to myself. Let this be all right.

Howard slowly began to bring his 30.06 to his shoulder.
The bear saw his movement, turned its massive head toward us
and stood on its hind legs
as if making sure it was seeing what it was seeing.

“Holy Jesus,” Howard said out loud.

No sound. Only moonlight making night almost as bright as day.

Howard seemed to have forgotten about his gun.
The bear didn’t move, but kept staring at us.
It was too dark to see its eyes, but we could feel its eyes anyway,
black, red around the edges, intense with anger at humans
and all humans had done to him and his kind.

A movement caught the edges of my eye,
and I glanced from the grizzly to the south.

“Howard,” I said.

Howard tried to look at the bear and where I was pointing at the same time.
A huge buck was standing in a clearing ten feet from us.
His massive rack seemed to have a hundred points
sprouting in all directions from where horns grew from his head.
I looked back at the towering grizzly.
It was looking away from us toward the buck.
The buck snorted. The grizzly snorted.
Howard and I stood like ice statues in the bitter cold.

“A cactus buck,” Howard said, wonder his voice.

The bear whoofed as it fell to four legs.
With a speed that seemed impossible it blurred toward the buck.
The buck leaped backward, seeming to turn in mid-air.
It bounded down the canyon, outpacing the grizzly.
Within seconds the canyon felt empty again.

Neither Howard nor I spoke as we stood in moonlight
looking toward where the grizzly had gone after the buck.

“Damned cold out here,” Howard said at last.
“Yeah,” I breathed. My legs felt wobbly.
“We’d better get moving,” Howard said.

On the cliff rim, looking down into the canyon, a mile from camp,
cold getting colder and colder, Howard shook his head.

“They’ll never believe this happened if we tell them,” he said.
“No,” I answered. “I don’t think I believe it happened.”
My stomach was still churning queasily.

We turned and plowed toward the power wagon,
tents flimsy against wilderness, and home.

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41. Fate and Sentinels

a passage from The Dragon Epic by Thomas Davis

1

As Cragdon stood upon the field stone wall,
He felt a wind so cold it drove through flesh.
The weirding in the wind came harrowing
Into his spirit, forcing him to hunch
Against the battering that rolled from mountains,
Past where he stood, into the village humans.
He strained to see the dragons in the skies
Ruanne had said were coming full of rage.
The men had taken up positions meant
To let them fling their arrows from a wall
That would not burn when dragon flame belched out
Toward the vulnerability of human flesh.
The mothers had their children hidden, buried
Beneath the slabs of stone beneath the floors
Of cottages built when the dragon wars
Were devastating human, dragon lives.

He straightened up against the chilling wind
And thought about the blackness of the dragon
He’d fought beside Ruarther in the dark.
Inside Ruanne’s small cottage, dragon eyes had slammed
Into his spirit, forcing him to fall,
But now he stood determined, stronger than
He’d been just weeks ago, a warrior armed
With weapons that he’d use to fight the evil
Swooped raging from a night-black silver sky.
He felt the dragons even though he saw
No trace of dragons in the morning light.

He shifted on the wall and tried to see
Beyond the distance walling in the sky.
He’d fought a dragon once, he told himself.
They’d not use claws and fires to devastate
Ruanne and all the men who’d sought him when
He’d stumbled through the blinding of the snow.
He’d use what strength he had to shield his wife
And child against the possibilities
Horrendous in the wheel of human fate.

2

The black rage boiled at Mmirrimann and stirred
His blood to mindlessness, Sshruunak’s rebellion
A seething hatred as he turned away
From what the human girl had generated
Out of her mother’s need and looked toward
The mountain skies where dragons rose to war.
Ssuranne, beside him, stared at him in silence.
She stood beside the human rainbow dragon
And waited as he conquered mindless rage
And started calculating what response
Made sense as miracle confronted fate–
Tinged with the promise of extinction facing
Continuance of all of dragonkind.

The other dragons, ringed around the girl
Transmuted to a dragon, seemed distraught,
Eyes shocked by feeling blackness ricocheted
Across the fields of snow, Sshruunak a nightmare
They’d thought would go away, but dreaded deep
Inside their in-most thoughts, rebellion woven
Into the history all dragons lived.
They seemed to hesitate as Mmirrimann
Decided what he’d do to meet the challenge
Sshruunak had sent into the dragon host.

“He’ll end the dragon race,” growled Mmirrimann.

“Responding will create a dragon war,”
Ssuranne replied, her thoughts intense and sickened.
“No dragon’s fought another dragon since
The Time of Mindlessness and Gorgon’s fight
To build the strength of dragon sentience.
We cannot fight the daughters and the sons
We saw break from their eggs into the light.”

The rainbow dragon, still pulsating light,
Looked calmly at the two of them, her changing
Done, humanness a part of who she was,
A dragon on a field where other dragons were.
Her song was softer than a dragon’s song,
Her voice so musical and clear is was
Like springtime winds whooshed through the leaves of trees.

“The dragon race will live,” she said. “The war
Will not disgrace the strength of who you are.”

She spread her multi-colored wings and drove
Them downwards as she rose inelegantly
Into the air above the frozen pond.

3.

As Reestor lit the fires inside the pots
The men would use to light the arrows used
To splash flames over hardened dragon scales,
He cursed the day and said a heartfelt prayer
To Selen, hoping love could overcome
The pain and suffering about to bloom
Into the garden of the wondrous earth.
Ruanne, beside him, said no word, but sparked
The flame into the pot he placed beside
Each man, eyes grim with fear and strength of mind.
He could not hear the children hidden dark
Beneath the cottages, but knew they cried
And pleaded with their mothers for their love
As life became a dream they’d never dreamed
Would change their lives while they were still so young.
He thought about the horror of his father’s death
And wondered why the ancient horror marched
Alive into a time when wars were in the past.

He almost dropped the pot he held when flame
Flared up too high and almost singed his hand.
Ruanne just looked at him, still silent, scolding
Eyes wild with brewing, devastating spells.

Unsettled, Reestor looked toward the wall
Where Cragdon and the others strained their eyes
To see the dragons flying at the village.
Someone would see them coming, shout their warning,
And life would change from what it ought to be,
And nothing would be like it once had been.

To listen to this passage, click on Fate and Sentinels

Note: This is the forty first passage of a long narrative poem, which has grown into The Dragon Epic. Originally inspired by John Keats’ long narrative poem, Lamia, it tells a story set in ancient times when dragons and humans were at peace. Click on the numbers below to reach other sections, or go to the Categories box to the right under The Dragon Epic. Click on Dragonflies, Dragons and Her Mother’s Death to go to the beginning and read forward. Go to The Shock of Rage to read the passage before this one. To read the next passage in the epic click on The Deadly Dragon Horde.

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The Kettle and the Stove

a children’s poem by Thomas Davis

“Well fellow old, my faithful friend,”
The kettle sighed as she began.
“We’ve cooked away until the end
And finally our long earned rest’s at hand.

“Sleep softly this black household night
And when bright morning trumpets in
We’ll wheeze and steam just like the light
And start our work all up again.”

“Oh yes,” the old stove answered her.
“The morning always seems to come.
The only thing is that I’m tired
And wish that all the endless work was done.”

“Oh yes,” the kettle wheezed and sighed.
“I know the feeling. Yes, I do.
Sometimes I get steamed up inside
And boil the silliest things. I do.

“Why, just today some tea was poured
Into my deepest inside part,
And I steamed up with salty tears
And salted tea down in my heart.”

“There, there,” the old stove gently said.
“Now don’t go getting steamed again.
My fires are cold and long since dead,
And sleep’s the thing that eases sin.”

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18. Touching a Dragon’s Mind

Inside the cottage Ruanne sat as sunrise
Beside her loom and rocked the rocking chair
So slightly that it hardly seemed to move.
Old Broar and Reestor sat beside her waiting,
Their nervousness at weirdness burned
Into their eyes and drawn, pale hunter’s faces.
Ruanne let thoughts drift outward, fleeing light
Toward the mountains rising in the west.
The only time she’d let her thoughts drift west
Was when she’d been distracted or was close
To sleep and inbetween awake and sleep.
For years she’d forced her mind to shy away
From songs vibrating deep inside her bones.

As morning light intensified and spread
Across her flagstone floor, she saw Crayllon,
The witch, stare at the villagers as one,
And then another, picked up heavy stones
And threw them at her and her tiny child
Who wailed despair at rage and cruelty.

Crayllon had stood her ground, disheveled, rage
Distorting who she was, and held the girl
Behind her plain black skirts as she was hit
And bloodied on her arm and then her face.
Her husband newly dead, accused of forcing
A man who’d loved her all her life to die,
She’d stood as silent as the stones that bruised
Her flesh and spirit, cut her off from people
She’d lived with all her life. Her witchery,
Inherited from parents who helped to end
The wars for Clayton through their dragon-talking,
An evil that the village could not tolerate.
Grim words had sealed her fate through innuendo.
This even though her husband’s wounds had come
From dire wolves chanced upon while hunting goats.

He was too strong to die, his kin had said,
Their grief as bitter as their lives had been.
His wife had caused his death. She was a witch.
She had to die, and so they’d used their tongues
To brew a storm that led to men with stones
Hurled with excitement at a woman, child,
Themselves, their fears, the village’s ruined heart.

Inside her trance Ruanne lost where she was.
Her vision burned into her young child’s mind.
She’d never be a witch, she thought. Not her.
She’d be a village woman safe from stones.
Old Broar had been the one that stopped the madness.
He’d stepped between the witch and grinning men
And made them hesitate and told the witch
To leave, to save her child, to keep the village
From doing what would stain its spirit black,
And somehow, standing there, he’d backed the men
And women spreading lies into retreat
And let Crayllon flee to the mountain peaks.

She startled in the rocking chair. Chills ran
Along her arms and made her want to flee
Away from chaos pounding in her head.
The dragon song she’d felt before had throbbed
With harmonies that shimmered, colored dancing.
Fear, rage, regret, intensity, confusion,
Cold calculation, desperation stopped
Her rocking, made her rigid as a spire
Of stone shot up into a storming sky.

Old Broar and Reestor felt the storm she faced
And blanched, their fears alive inside of them.
Their bodies made them want to get up, flee
Into the wilderness away from what
Was pummeling Ruanne, assailing her.
They had to reach into their deepest selves
To sit and watch their young friend face her storm.

An ancient spirit felt Ruanne and stared
Into a human that she’d never thought would brave
The huge immensities inside her mind.
Ruanne felt fear rise up as if a stream
Had overflowed its banks and swept all life
Before it as it dominated earth.
The dragon seized control of who she was
And forced herself to calm and said inside
Herself, “We do not want another war.”

And then Ruanne saw where a long, dark ridge
Rose out of endless fields of drifted snow
And saw Ruarther by a fire, his face
So hideous with burns from dragon fire
She cried out in the silent room and made
The two men get up from their chairs, their hearts
Contesting wills to keep them in the cottage.

The dragons’ calm washed through Ruanne and let
Her feel herself again. She looked at Reestor,
Despair at what she’d seen so strong and urgent
She dropped the dragon song and felt a panic
That seemed to make her life irrelevant.
Her eyes were raw with tears streaked down her cheeks.

“Ruarther’s burned by dragon fire,” she said.
“The war’s begun. He made the war he wanted,
And soon its fires will sweep out of the caves.”

Old Broar looked at her frightened eyes and forced
Himself to smile. “You touched a dragon’s mind,”
He said. “You didn’t die. We have a way
Of telling them we do not want more war.”

Grim, Reestor moved and took Ruanne into his arms.

“We’ll find him. He won’t die out there,” he said.

Ruanne’s eyes filled with tears. “I love him. Damned,”
She said. “I love him even though he’s crazy,
Concocting senselessness endangering
The people that he thinks his deeds protects.”

Outside the children started shouting, laughing
As morning started up life’s old routines.

To listen to this section click on Touching a Dragon’s Mind.

Note: This is the eighteenth installment of a long narrative poem. Inspired by John Keats’ long narrative poem, Lamia, it tells a story set in ancient times when dragons and humans were at peace. Click on the numbers below to reach other sections, or go to the Categories box to the right under The Dragon Epic. Click on 1 to go to the beginning and read forward. Go to 17 to read the installment before this one. Click 19 for the following section.

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Dragonflies, Dragons, and Her Mother’s Death

by Thomas Davis

She looked at all the red-eyed dragonflies
That hovered on the water of the pond.
Inside the small stone house, just ten years old,
But feeling like she’d lived at least two lifetimes,
She wondered how the dragonflies perceived
Her hugeness when she walked out to the pond
And stared at them, their gauze-like wings and bodies
As red as eyes that bugged out at the day.

Above her on the mountain peaks, in caves
That joined to caves through tunnels dug by dragons,
As large compared to her as she was when
She stood above the darting dragonflies,
The daily noise of dragonkind was echoing
Down rocky slopes, off cliffs too high for humans.

She wondered, looking at the dragonflies,
What she would feel if, suddenly, she grew
A dragon’s leathery wings and felt the power
The dragons felt when spewing streams of fire.

She did not look behind her where her mother
Was stiff in death, her aging face now smoothed
Of wrinkles wrought by weeks of endless pain
As life ebbed from her as she fought to keep
Herself alive so that her only daughter
Would not be left alone upon the mountain.

At last the young girl sighed. She had her chores:
She had to dig a shallow grave and find
Round stones to place upon her mother’s body.
She’d cried all day until the storm had left,
And now, inside a weariness that seemed
As heavy as the stones she’d have to find,
She had to face what was and nurse her courage.
She thought, this mountain’s home. I’m staying here.

Above the house a golden dragon drove
Its heavy wings through heavy summer air.
A rumbling echoed off the rocks and cliffs
That soared forever up into the sky.

The villagers, who lived a dozen miles away
Inside a wall of circled black, round stones,
Were terrified each time a dragon passed
Above their heads, its wing beats making thunder,
But she had always lived below the caves
And heard their moving, eating, talking noises
As they lived life the way her mother, she
Lived life, joy bubbling out of mountain stones.

Her mother would not weigh too much. Not now.
The stones she found would be much heavier.
She turned away from dragonflies and, careful
To keep her eyes away from where her mother
Looked up toward the dark stone ceiling’s thatch,
Went through the doorway’s arch outside. The chill
That night would bring was still two hours away.

She’d manage living on the mountainside,
She told herself. She’d learned her mother’s skills
At gardening and hunting game too small
For dragon’s bellies or their long, black claws.
She had a woman’s heart in spite of being young.
She went down to the shed she’d used for play
And got their spading shovel off the wall.

What should she do? She asked herself. The stones
Or digging first? She left the shed’s cold dimness
And walked down to a mound above the pool.
She wasn’t weak, she thought. She forced the blade
Into the rich, dark, mountain earth and watched
A worm slide out of sight into the ground.
She fought the tiredness in her spirit, lifted
The soil from the tiny indentation
And dug again, the rhythm of the work
A balm to memory, the single gasp
She’d heard her mother make as all her breath
Exhaled into a world she’d left unwillingly.

Night came too soon. Above her head a dragon
Flew overhead and circled, watching her.
She didn’t look at it, but kept on digging.
A moon as large as dragon fire rose red
Above the jagged peaks around the cottage.

She’d have to gather stones tomorrow morning,
She told herself. She looked back at the cottage.
In mountain air she couldn’t sleep outside,
Away from where her mother’s eyes stared sightlessly.

Do what you have to do, she told herself.
You’ll live through this. Do what you have to do.

Note: This is the beginning of a poem too long to publish on wordpress. The story was inspired by John Keats’ tale in his narrative poem, Lamia, although this poem uses blank verse rather than the rhyming couplets Keats used. To go to the next section of the epic, click on 2.

Ben Naga asked me to do an audio of the poems I have not yet put in place. I’m not sure that that is important this late in publishing the epic, but this is the audio for the first installment of the dragon epic: Dragonflies, Dragons, and Her Mother’s Death.

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Filed under Poetry, The Dragon Epic, Thomas Davis

Faluga

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

Written after hearing a Marine’s story
on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio

The young marine tells his story.

In Falluja they struggled:
eye gouging
hair pulling
biting.
It would be a fight
to the finish.

The American noticed
the Iraqi was a very young man.
He could smell
the man’s breath,
taste his sweat,
feel the broken needle
in his shirt pocket.

The Marine wondered
why he had signed up.
He wasn’t prepared
to kill a man
with his bare hands.

Then the Iraqi bit
a chunk out of his hand.
The American reacted
with rage,
found his knife
in his pocket—
the same knife
he opened his ration bag with,

thrust it into the Iraqi
below his collar bone,
into the artery,
then pumped the man’s neck.

When life was almost out
of his eyes,
the Iraqi reached up
and gently touched
the American’s hair
and the side of his face.

originally published in I Sleep Between the Moons of New Mexico

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