Poems by Pamela Davis

That night | Crepuscule | Don’t Tell Them

Notre Dame | Chagall’s Brides

That night

my father sat on his bed facing the street with a shotgun
on his knees. Washed in the streetlight’s mercury vapor,

his back was a moonscape of bone and shadow. I stood at the door
to his bedroom. He was already leukemic—wild white cells

tore through his blood and marrow. Nobody still alive
can tell me about that night. I should have gone to his side,

stayed until first light. It was early fall, October?
The spindly cedar in front lasted another year or two. Half a century

later, studying Pluto’s glacial mirrors, its windblown heart,
and misshapen moons named for the Underworld,

I understand exile.
Styx, Charon, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos, incalculably far away.


Winter and nothing to recommend this smudged church
smothered with scaffolding. Paris is under general strike again,

the Metro blocked by chains. Garbage piles up in pyramids,
tin cans and fishbones. Dominic says the Egyptians fetishized

their dead. I come to the city’s cathedrals to light candles
for my brothers. In the afternoon, the chestnut trees

in the Tuileries appear stripped and wasting, crepuscular.
Not evening, but dusk overhung with omens

of mourning. Invisible hands pull maroon drapes closed
behind tall windows. We dressed our older brother’s coffin

in white roses. It was a hot October day. Daytime is no time
to bury your dead. Wait for twilight’s ambiguous sleight of hand.

Idling the Seine, a bargeman rests his weight on the wheel
watching the river surrender the sun. Every day ends like this.

Don’t Tell Them

they’re beautiful, the young girls wobbling in espadrilles.
When they pad their chests, torment raw skin, say nothing.
They will argue their own ugliness. Don’t contradict them.
Like yearlings, girls are imperiled if the world
recognizes their radiance.

For her 13th birthday, my granddaughter asks
for a makeover. At the department store,
she looks at the ceiling while a beauty expert
applies thick mascara on her light eyelashes.
The freckles I love disappear under smears
of blush the color of red clay. On our way home,
she wipes gloss off her lips. Ink stained tears
roll down her cheeks. She hasn’t reached her year
of beauty, but it will come soon enough. Twice blessed
are girls who pass through their blossoming unaware.

Friend, you say you were never pretty,
but one day you might come across proof
you were once so lovely it seizes your breath.
When we sold my mother’s house, I found a photo
of myself wearing a white organza prom dress,
bodice embellished with silk rosebuds. Underneath,
my body was bound by a grown woman’s corset
my mother hooked one-by-one up my back.
As I went out the door, my father took my picture,
startled by camera flash, my face full of starlight.

Notre Dame

Months after the fire, it looks like a whale carcass
washed ashore, ragged ribs thrust to sky. Raw planks
undergird the flying buttresses. A massive crane swings supplies
from a barge, swings back with debris. I circumnavigate
looking at photographs of the walled-off cathedral engulfed
by flames. Too fragile for fire hoses, drones dropped water inside,
dove for artifacts like scavenger birds.

On screens around the world, people watched the slender spire
burn through its lead casing, break off like a wishbone.
No one saw Father Jean-Marc Fourier race through walls of fire
to save the Crown of Thorns moments before the roof collapsed.
What reduced the medieval wonder of woven oak to rubble?
Some small thing, they say, a simple mistake.

Once I stood in the transept between the rose windows,
looking down at rainbows their glass cast at my feet.
Chips of light skittered my ankles like tropical fish.
Today coarse nets cover the glass shards, gaps
here and there like missing teeth.

I cross the little bridge behind the church to Île Saint-Louis
where we celebrated the millennium twenty years ago.
The waiter at Café de Flore says he watched Notre Dame burn.
It was half past six in the afternoon. For weeks, the city air
tasted of metal, of char.

I remember waking to Notre Dame’s deep, summoning bells
on the first day of the new millennium. The tolling trembled
our bones, rolled over rooftops, thundered down empty streets.
The chords echoed forever, carrying us from the world
we knew to what loomed ahead.

Chagall’s Brides

Chagall’s brides burn like moons
even though the museum is over-chilled
and the oils appear still wet.
Someone passes trailing scent,
blue woods, anise, yes,
my father’s laundered shirt.
Warm in his arms I’m carried upstairs,

mesmerized by embers glowing
through the fire’s skeleton logs.
Nights I dreamwalk from my bed
to his cedar closet, wake wide awake
listening to Dad’s music you give me fever
playing downstairs. Peggy Lee’s low purr
and bourbon over ice stay up late downstairs.

After he dies, I have a dream, the same one
every night. In a city I don’t know,
my father rushes away from me,
farther and farther, smaller and smaller.
Daddy. He never looks back.

They lasted into my twenties,
the dreams. Like life, his hair black,
blue pack of Black Jack gum in his pocket,
licorice intense as a secret.

Pamela Davis is the author of Lunette, winner of the ABZ Prize for Poetry. Her poems have been published widely in journals such as Cimarron Review, Cumberland River Review, Existere (Canada), New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, Smartish Pace, Stand (UK), Streetlight, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Zone 3, for example. She has been a finalist for the American Literary Review Poetry Prize and the Nimrod Journal Pablo Neruda Prize, and she has won the Atlanta Review International Poetry Award. Davis is a founding member of the Independent Writers of Southern California and now lives in the flammable hills of Santa Barbara.

Some of these poems were influenced by Davis’s time in France, most recently at the outbreak of the Covid epidemic.

Copyright © Mudlark 2020
Mudlark Posters | Home Page