Carol V. Davis, "Long Shadows"




Before we understood suffering, we played a game:

What sense would you prefer to lose?

I’d choose taste, glad to give up the bitter radishes I’d 

push to the edge of my plate, a mound of ammunition

I wouldn’t dare launch at my brother. I’d happily forego 

the dark nuggets we guessed incorrectly were steak 

when it was kidney in the pies served at school lunch.

The headmistress who paced with a ruler tapping 

her palm, checking if we’d eaten our portions, 

the sting to our hands when we had not: touch, 

a code for punishment. Blindness

too frightening to contemplate, too

familiar, as my route home looped in front of

The School for the Blind, though rarely were children 

out front, and never did they play sidewalk games.

I didn’t know the many pregnancies 

my mother had lost, the blank before my

brother’s adoption, the blank after, followed 

by my risky birth. And the one stillbirth. 

Was it a boy? A girl? Did they name it? 

Or did it join those other whispers about cousins 

my family couldn’t trace in Germany?

I’d give up hearing if it meant not catching

the worry in my parents’ voices, give up

the smell of leaves burning, so as 

not to be reminded of that other smoke.

So many secrets buried in the backyard.

Even after thinning, the trees tightened

in a circle, casting long shadows all night.


Carol V. Davis is the author of Between Storms (Truman State University Press, 2012). She won the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg. Twice a Fulbright scholar in Russia, she teaches at Santa Monica College and Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, Verse Daily, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper the Jewish Journal.