El Dorado and Other Poems by Jim Davis

JIM DAVIS is a graduate of Knox College and an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Jim lives, writes, and paints in Chicago, where he reads for TriQuarterly and edits the North Chicago Review. His work has appeared in Seneca Review, Adroit Journal, Sheepshead Review, New Plains Review, Whitefish Review, The Café Review, and Contemporary American Voices, in addition to winning the Line Zero Poetry Contest, Eye on Life Poetry Prize, multiple Editor’s Choice awards, and a recent nomination for the Best of the Net Anthology. In addition to the arts, Jim is an international semi-professional football player. http://www.jimdavispoetry.com

Northwest Blue Line, 11:03pm

In the tinny din of Dunkin Donuts
on Ashland by the furniture shop, she begins
to mop, swivel her hips and sways
to Neko Case drifting through her hairnetted, sloe-eyed, late night – born here
from a world of animal husbandry, chicken
shit relaxing in her wake, shit brown rusted
Sedan in the K-Mart parking lot, her ark, her final
scrap of past. Clientele predicts the shift
of summer-day to summer-dusk, the ache
of her elbow, scooping small fists of praline, tapioca
mint – soon, eight past eleven, after the tremor
of the underground train, the man with a French
horn strapped to his body, entombed in a fire
proof case, will slide in, order, slide out. She will
ask him to play a little something, hoping
for a smile, two engorged cheeks, a single note –
she will scoop an extra scoop, ask him please to play
though he won’t, pay in nickels, never will.
This is as good a place as any not to be wanted,
all the noise and no noise and since I cannot find another
place to sit and write, I admit my love I will
digest you with words: I am the rail-hard speed of sound.


The curled, splintery nails of our neighbor’s terrier
grew too long so they put her down. Conclave, a meeting
deep in the rock’s concavity where those who’ve atoned
settle and confess. He in the YMCA basement, a cavern
of ex-cons and practicing alcoholics, those drinking acetone
and spearmint mouth rinse, sending matted West Highland Whites
to the grave. One’s in love with a fat whiskered bottom feeder
at the other end of a proverbial graphite pole, bent by line, only knows
her binarily, their latent arousal masked by many layers of mask.
Strong coffee, slick glazed pastries, sugar-wax capsules like confetti
or rainbow shit, as one so aptly stated, smelling subtly of Scope.
Once suddenly the dawn. Once suddenly the tears and once
this fish upon a hook upon a string. Every romance is fictionizing.
Oxygen is both byproduct and obligation: carbon fingernails
used to dig for splinters, barbed hooks – you can see their imprint
in the desperate gasping, gaping mouths of despair, disparate gaps
of empty space between unanswered breaths. Sleep is less and less.
When the sky spoke and said Red last night she was right
as the morning was blue and calm and guilty, charged
with forgetting. The big man’s dog has died again, so many times
it’s hard to believe that language could ever save him, or be
our own invention, our red right hand, glazed fingers, our own crashing
gavel on the podium of stone, symbol, mahogany, allegory. Cherub candle,
folding chairs, incandescent lighting where all that has left us speaks
to all we’ve ever left or indeed are leaving.
Something desperate in the smoke that isn’t. The fire that isn’t.
And it’s hard to decipher, hard to presume we’re any wiser
as John Coltrane throbs in periphery – justice for us, or them –
and as the coal train passing shakes flecks of what might be asbestos
from fluorescent ceiling lamps, we sigh and think not them, just us.

Stinging Nettle
urtica dioica

Remember that skin-tight thoroughfare
in Castletroy? How by June the nettles crept
like a burn across a jumper scarred
with cigarette ember? You can put together
a crew of hurleys and take the night
in a sack, hop the stonewall of Elm Park
and drink in the Jewish graveyard, potato
vodka bottle chucked into the char
of a burnt out car, lean against the unconsidered Hebrew
characters carved in stone. The sting is your fault –
too close to nettles, too rough and you break
the small hairs on their stems and undersides,
unlike the slow red admiral and peacock
caterpillars, which crawl and live among the leaves
with general calm and ennui. You’ll have to crush
a handful of nearby Dock leaves, rub ‘em steady
to relieve the itch. Down by the river, young one
on your arm, should you hear the horses, hide.
It’s hard to predict the unaccounted. Travelers mostly
work suds though rags and pants and jumpers in the reeds
at the river’s edge, though you’re best to stay pressed
against the castle-wall until they’re gone. Were you to boil
a pot of nettle soup, crack three pints of Tiger
Beer, named by the Singapore brewery, not for Ireland’s
grand financial flux, but the 700lb cat filling himself
at the riverbank, harmless if fed, otherwise ravenous –
were you to steep the weed and drink the lager
at the right time of night, say, a few years back, you would
see a crew of boys wearing shorts running through
the thoroughfare, nettle-stung, carving cool summer
from the Garda, springing nights alive in Castletroy.

El Dorado

Dust kicks up & the white chicken scatters as fat John Wayne horses into town, gut-shot
boy draped over the bending bridge-back of a black
& white Appaloosa – two holes. The Hawks put two in back
of the goal in 17 seconds, game six, I thought Shaw was gone
when he took a puck to the face from a stick’s reach away. I found
a Donald Platt poem I’d printed & between periods, wrote a miniature play
book on the back – Xs & Os. All of us hope
to be eternal. On the road to El Dorado, John Wayne came
upon a napping cowboy who shot groggy, John shot back
& caught him in the buttonhole. Gut-shot, filled with stories
of infection, the toxic death of a bullet to the belly,
the boy put another in his head. When you’re laid to rest,
which position will you choose – standard supine? head tilted so
catacombs will ring with your snores? or would you prefer to lie
on your side, pillow between your knees, the way you used to
face a window streaked with branches & blue sky, a small wire
fence penning chickens. When the worms carve their way
through your eyeballs, it will be the fussing chickens you hear, scattered
by the haunting echo of Chelsea Dagger raging below.

More poetry by Jim Davis here at IP…

%d bloggers like this: