Three Poems – John Paul Davis


Year Of The Game Face

That was the year no work came, concrete
year, storm cloud year. Year of hooking
my finger deep in the driverside
seat looking for coins.

It was my weekend with my children, & I wouldn't
feed them the ramen noodles I was feeding myself. Their hearts flapped
& glowed like summer wings; even in winter
their skin & shouting lit entire rooms. How could I not 
take them for donuts & pizza?

That Christmas, I'd sold my music collection, fifteen thousand 
dollars' worth for four hundred, 
enough for gifts, a tree. Now, in the Year 
of Hiding the Car From the Repo Truck
I had just enough gas left to drive to Third St,
both boys excited to go somewhere new.
I carried Brennan, held Colum's hand. I let him
carry the leatherette box. He held it on an open
upturned palm, walked slowly, in love with ceremony
as he was. He said the pawn shop
was filled with funny light

& it was: the room, lit only by skylight
that seemed to rise upward from stains
in the aquamarine carpet. It looked like an underworld,
like Wabash St, autumn-wet under the saurian
iron limbs of the el the year I proposed
& paid for both her ring & mine with student loans.

I was surprised to find I still had the box
seven years later & after wedging the platinum
into its pinch of white silk for the last time
it would take me months to stop absently
pulling at the spot on my finger
where it used to loosely rest with my thumb
as if to spin its ghost.

Colum, in the car, threaded two fingers
in & out of the band, declared I had ginormous
fingers. Opening & closing the box
to hear the creak of its rarely-used hinges,

he wanted to know why a ring needed
a box when it could just be worn. Now, after
handing it over to the old man
behind the glass counter, he waited

as it was weighed & grunted
over. The old man made a show
of being gracious, looking 
at my sons then at the ring's dull shine

then thumbing the bristles on his chin
before saying a number less than an eighth
of what I'd paid seven years prior.
It was not the last time the divorce stung
in my eyes, thinking of what the ring

had cost me. It should have been worth
more, but I nodded to the old man,
doing math in my head, planning
the weekend, Colum's lips parted in awe

as the old man planted one small bill
after another in my waiting hand,
counting & licking his fingers
between each one. That's a lot

of money Colum announced to the abandoned
storefronts as we loaded ourselves into the car.
He was still celebrating 

when we pulled into the gas station,
the sun having finally opened
its iris to clean the day of color
& fill it with the pale
clarity of winter afternoon,

that's just a lot of money. 
It wasn't.

The Legislature Unanimously Voted My Beard State Beard

My beard has many rooms,
is smaller on the outside
than on the inside. I wove flowers from the dogwood 
& the tree of sorrow
in my beard & waited for you. I brought
you ibuprofen & chamomile,
I stayed up late just to hear your voice,
I let my beard grow & grow. I touch & touch 
the blood-yellow nebula on my bicep where you bit
me & thanked the god I'm trying to believe
in you use your teeth. I prayed
for you. For grace, & my beard grew
a little. I'm in the crush
of the city & it's growing. Riding a shriek
of metal under the river
toward home & it grows. Texted
you a heart ideograph
& my invisible god
weaved silver & white into it. I turned 40
while I was holding your hand & looking
for the Big Dipper. Please
please don't ever let me go. My god
grows a beard or is a woman
or both. I hope both. I can't win
or be good all the time. But it grows
like my love grows. The kingfisher
& the cardinal roost in it. They fly
in & keep going in, deeper & deeper. I feel I'm a fool
for sending you away. I don't
want to play this safe. The Rhythm
Of The Saints was playing
& my beard grew, grew, grows, groans, knows,
goes, goes. I turned around
& there you were again & you wanted
to dance with me. It grew, it knew.
One day my beard will be a fire that wraps
around itself. I'll stay wild
for you. One day my beard
will be large enough to give off its own light.
Bare your teeth. My blood & beard are eager sugar
for you. Already I have saved & stored
every one of your kisses in it. I believe
in you. Us. One day, tomorrow,
forever. Daylight, delight, sunrise, the sun.


I didn't really drink til the divorce opened me like gunfire,
then I found myself alone nights & liked the way the water tasted like gunfire.

Had a mean lover immediately after. Maybe believed I deserved no 
better. She loved me like a past-due bill, a hunger strike, gunfire.

She loved me with a barbed-wire voice, sertraline, & her fists.
I loved vodka. I filled a glass, filled another, let it fill me with night, gunfire.

Fill glass. Swallow. Kiss ice. Swallow. I said no & she held me down. 
Tried to leave & she threw glass. Shattered. I called the cops. She raged like gunfire.

I moved out & loved whiskey. Moved on & loved the river & gin.
Spent money I didn't have. Starved. Loved moonshine, how it bites, gunfire.

Have you ever wanted to stop feeling? Mix limeade, lemonade & blueberry vodka. 
Drink, repeat, drink, repeat. I tore through so many days like gunfire.

I drove home after Caitlin's twenty-first, tequila sizzling in me, convinced the cop
to ignore my eyes, focus on my whiteness. He let me go, my heart snapping like gunfire.

Have you ever wanted to stop? I burned photos of my ex-wife 
& girlfriends. Cradled the Maker's in one hand. Ice clacked against ice. Gunfire.

I don't remember my thirty-fifth birthday. I don't know how I got home
after I left Chelsy's party in the thunderstorm over Elston Ave that night. Gunfire.

I don't remember creeping Amy out. I don't remember almost dying
crossing the Metra tracks on Wilson, the train roaring like gunfire.

I remember wine. Wine, & wine, & wine. I can detect a varietal
by taste. I remember being awakened from sleep by the craving like gunfire.

If you learn why only some survive, tell me. Please. The Lord doesn't protect everyone.
I don't know who to pray to except He who allowed the invention of crosses, knives, gunfire.

I've lived so long in what sorrow has built. I've gone by the name sorrow gave me.
I've swallowed night & its premises. Again & again. This blues. Ice against ice. Gunfire.


About John Paul Davis

John Paul Davis is a poet, musician, designer and web developer living in Brooklyn. You can find out more about him at View all posts by John Paul Davis

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