Skip to content

Good Letters

by-mdaines-on-flickrWhenever I first meet a long skinny poem, I ask myself: Why has the poet chosen these very brief lines for the poem’s shape? In Todd Davis’s “Nothing More,” the effect of these short lines is a sort of staccato: short phrases punched out in succession and often snapped by startling line breaks. Yet what fascinates me is that the content of this poem is contemplative—so a tension is set up between the poem’s shape and its substance. How perfect for a poem where the substance itself is a play of opposites: death and life, sleep and waking, “lucid dreaming.” And how intriguing that all this goes on within the genre of ars poetica: a poem about the art of poetry. Poetry, Davis writes, is “nothing more / than lucid dreaming.” Yet that “nothing more” becomes much indeed when Christ himself enters the poem as the “composer” (the poet) of a parable which the child he wakes from near-death has been dreaming.

—Peggy Rosenthal

“Nothing More” by Todd Davis

He was used to writing
poems during meetings
and student presentations,
voices droning like bees
when the azalea blooms,
or while driving his car,
trucks only inches away,
death in tow. As Graves
tells us, “To be poets
confers Death on us.”
But death to self, or
to the world, or to each
moment passing away
irretrievably, irrevocably,
like the same azalea
days later, blossoms
black with decay?
What he liked most
was writing in church
while the minister
explained why Christ
said the child had
not died but only slept.
Poetry is nothing more
than lucid dreaming:
awake enough to change
the course of things
by merely desiring it,
asleep enough to know
the pleasures of the dead.
A poem can’t say what
the girl wished for
after Christ called
to her, “Talitha kum.”
But from what poem
would anyone willingly
awake? In the room
where Christ composed,
she slept undisturbed
until his words woke her
from a dream of mustard
grown taller than any
plant, of birds roosting
in its branches, shielded
from the day’s harsh light.

Image depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

+ Click here to make a donation.

+ Click here to subscribe to Image.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Todd Davis

Todd Davis is the author of five full-length collections of poetry—Winterkill, In the Kingdom of the Ditch, The Least of These, Some Heaven, and Ripe—as well as of a limited edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems.  He edited the nonfiction collection, Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball, and co-edited the anthology Making Poems.  His writing has been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column American Life in Poetry.  His poems have won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Editors Prize, the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Bronze Award, and have been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize.  His poetry has been published in such noted journals and magazines as American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Iowa Review, North American Review, Missouri Review, Gettysburg Review, Orion, West Branch, and Poetry Daily.  He is a fellow in the Black Earth Institute and teaches environmental studies, creative writing, and American literature at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.

Above image is by M Daines, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

If you like Image, you’ll love ImageUpdate.

Subscribe to our free newsletter here: