Michael C. Davis


For once, there is no traffic.

We cross Old Lee Highway
and proceed down
Lorcom Lane
past the Episcopal church,
the branch library,
the gay man's house
with the yard of ivy
my brother used to tend.

We make all the lights.

I see that your face is now
mine, and my sibling's.
But the hair
is yours, a dark
and curly cap that almost hides
your ears.

We don't need to say a thing.

The poplars over Spout Run
arch in full leaf,
pressing upward from the stones.
Your hand,
as middle aged as ever
firmly grips the blue plastic
of the wheel.

We roll

on well-greased hubs
down the roadway and turn on
to the river's edge. It's been
a long time since I've been
in a car with bench seats
and nylon upholstery.

Up the ramp,

the way is clear.
Georgetown's stone towers
signal the far bank
and I anticipate
the light at M,
the shift to cobbles,
the old trolley tracks
all of it suspended
as the bridge drops away
and the car falls.

The river rises

to smash through the glass
and metal. Mother,
I have not seen you in 20 years.
Where are you taking us,
I ask the face that is now mine.


Tamerlane sits on two rugs,
one only partially unrolled,
apart from his retinue.

His wine bearers are frozen
in gestures of offering.

Across a small creek
whose voice will mingle
with other melodies
musicians sit
and pluck harp,
tap tambourine.

Fire of battle
still smolders
in the exalted one's eyes.
An orange tree
behind him
offers untaken shade.

The great city of India
lies at his feet,
There is no parade.

A simple shift
covers his back.
Violets embroider
the grass
the hillside.

The music
is not heard,
nor the voice
of the brook.
The field lies ready
for the scythe.


One day after I have chipped at the ice for years
you appear, one leg at a time. The thaw
draws back like the smile of a ghost
and you lie, surrounded by your goods—
your knitting, a letter, the last New Yorker.
Then your lids flutter and your eyes open,
denying the last visit your husband and son
made to the hospital to remove your rings
and leave you naked for the end.

So now the box that arrived 300 days later
filled with your ashes was just a joke!
Through it all you just slept, even as we dribbled
what remained of your bones
through our fingers and read a psalm:
"Shall the dust praise thee; shall it declare thy truth?"

Your face now beams as innocent
as the moon, slow with sleep
and the cold. I hold it in my hands to warm
the frozen cheeks. You ask are there grandchildren.
How is the house? What's for dinner?
I wrap you in a coat and help you down
the path, up the stairs. All the while you whisper
how it was cold, and so heavy. Unbearable.

You will find that everything has changed,
and nothing comes up to expectations.
The grandchildren will not recognize you.
The house has long since been bulldozed.
Dinner waits in some other oven but not ours.
And we nag. Why did you go and leave us?

We wished to have mourning
turned into gladness when we sat on cold stones
and let your life pass one last time through our fingers.
And all the while the birds sang
for love, or out of duty, how could we know?
The landscape was just a scrim of life
over the mineral world that will endure.

And here you are today, a wraith,
a wisp of smoke. One last time.
All hope against hope. A handful of ashes,
a face staring up from beneath the ice,
a hand reaching through fire that none survive.

Michael Davis is the author of Upon Waking, a chapbook published in 1999 by Mica Press. His work has appeared in Lip Service, Poet Lore, and the anthologies Open Door, Cabin Fever, and Winners. He has read his work extensively in the Washington, D.C., area and participates in the Arlington County Pick-a-Poet program, teaching poetry in county schools.



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