Name: Marissa Davis
Hometown: Paducah, Kentucky
Current city: Paris area, France
Occupation: English teacher
What does poetry mean to you?
Since the beginning, poetry, for me, has been an act of self-discovery. The page is where I learned that there is strength in vulnerability. It is where I learned to be proud of my heritage. It is where I build, re-build, deconstruct, shuffle, view from eight different angles, investigate, forgive, transform, and love the me I am constantly in the midst of becoming.
Beyond that, I’ve begun more and more to think of poetry as a spiritual act. For me, the meaning of spirituality is essentially a search for kinship—with other humans as well as the broader world. Metaphor and simile sit at the heart of poetry; I believe that to seek relatedness where relatedness isn’t “supposed” to exist—to find a reason why an oak tree is no different than my mother’s laughter; why a garden snake is no different than an unspoken grief—contracts the universe, bringing everything into more immediate connection.
Favorite poet: Aracelis Girmay
Why do you like this poet?
In one word, what draws me most to Girmay is her expansiveness. I think a lot of it comes from her style; often making use of lists and repetition, her work has an earthy, muscular, inescapable music that makes each poem a sort of sprawling incantation. She is a writer that embraces wildness.
Girmay is expansive thematically, too. Her writing often focuses on matters of identity, place, and heritage; daughter of immigrants from Latin America and eastern Africa, much of her body of work deals with political upheaval and displacement. Her writing is often simultaneously introspective and political; I feel that she accomplishes, in her poetry, the miraculous feat of looking so deeply inside herself she sees the outside world with new wisdom, new wideness.
Though her body of work certainly does not shy away from heavier subjects, it also takes time to examine the richness of life and the relationships within it. She revels in the joy and beauty of the everyday, writing odes to everything from watermelons to letters of the alphabet.
With this imitation, I chose to stick more closely to the style of poems such as “I Am Not Ready to Die Yet” and “Monologue of the Heart Pumping Blood”—both celebrations of life that are at once exuberant and unafraid of darkness.
Prayer to a Nightingale
by Marissa Davis
after Aracelis Girmay
I have so many times stumbled into midnight
forgetting all the syllables of my name.
Sick with self-hate or slow
chemicals or wanting to make metaphor
of everything but the hands of a man I know
won’t love me or sometimes even
just with too much mixing June heat
with my natural lonesome.
Nightingale, remind me
that even the shadow is holy.
Your croon like black
soap & sweet almond oil. Like pale green skulls
of daffodils crowning
through the ice’s last skin. Like whistling
roots, & milk teeth, & cold grapes
crushed against milk teeth, all split & nectar,
& what I’m learning is if you walk straight long enough
there is always either birdsong or pink magnolia.
Not to say there are not evenings
I cry myself to sleep so hard
my nose bleeds poppies on the pillow;
mornings I spit & damn
the sun for having the nerve to keep rising.
My marrow trembles & I can’t say why--
except that once upon a far-off summer, I lifted
a chipped blade from my wrists & spared:
the torment of mirrors; at least four dog-deaths; eventually
those of my mother & father; a hiking quantity
of juvenile heartbreaks. But once upon a far-off summer,
I lifted a chipped blade from my wrists & spared:
breath & blue pulse & watercolors
& Spanish clementines for breakfast & backyard toes
drenched in wild violet & my cousin’s
newborn pillbug fingers
& the wet sun-high summer smell of my bones
when I lie down among the doe-stomped grasses.
some melodies fit best
inside the sunless hours. I carry
my body into this song. I have chosen
to be vein & flesh & eyeballs
& one of the louder rivers.
may my muscles’
darkest word be wind.