a literary review
Driving in Nebraska and Listening to a Russian Band Play Dave Brubeck
My eye wanders off the four-lane highway.
Corn on my right, soy on my left.
I’m looking for roadside shrines, though I can’t say why.
Once on the Karelian Peninsula in Russia
I came upon an icon at an unmarked crossroads
sheltered in a tiny hut with a carved eave.
In winter, sparrow families would seek refuge
there from snow blasting in from the Baltic.
Sometimes a candle burned before an icon
of Saint Nikolai, patron of travelers.
In Los Angeles the shrines rise on sidewalks
beside the scene of an accident: Mexican saint candles
in tall glasses, a balloon bouquet and handwritten notes
clipped to the ears of teddy bears.
I drive further.
On the radio, someone shouts out James Bond
and the band jumps into a speeding melody
with a familiar thump.
After solos on the violins and keyboard,
a Yuri, Kiril and Alex are introduced.
A concert in Lincoln, though it’s unclear if the
musicians live here or are on an American tour.
The highway edges over a gentle slope.
Clouds tighten into a darkening fist.
A whirlpool of sparrows funnel over the field.
Noise can scare away the devil,
but why invoke it as a blessing?
Even now in Nebraska at dusk on a wedding day
the townspeople march on the newlyweds’ home,
beating tin oyster cans, ringing cow or sleigh bells
until the young couple emerges from their post-
ceremony cocoon to invite the rowdy crowd in.
The groom tries to placate the young men with cigars,
as the bride cuts ever widening slices of pie.
Sometimes the parties get out of hand, a bride made
to stand on the driver’s side fender, the groom on
the passenger’s, forced to hold hands across the hood
to keep from being thrown off. Danger the tune
carried toward a successful marriage.
I know enough to sing while hiking, though
the morning a mountain lion stood feet away on
my back porch, no melody protected me.
Neither of us moved or spoke.
Perhaps the startled silence saved us both.
The Minister’s Daughter, a Librarian, Defends the Prairie
You can’t love the mountains if you don’t love the prairie,
she proclaims, leaning back in the luncheonette booth.
We’ve just met, but already I’m privy to daughters
raised (none her own), politics (out of step with
this rural town).
Books and grasses are what she loves most, a weakness
for 19th century heroines with their thistles and
heather, a bleak wind to batter them.
A slight edge to her tone when she recounts visitors’
dismissal of these flat fields, as if height overrules all.
I’ve already signed on to this geography; the memory
of my coastal home with its cypresses carved by the
sea’s buffeting wind, fading the longer I am here.
On my way out of Beatrice, back to farms
and prairie, the slow slide toward night begins.
The Hassids believe the world is recreated each moment.
The chipping sparrow’s trill bounces
from box elder to bur oak as the cardinal’s
two-syllable call, thumps a base line.
The light shifts looking for refuge, hooking
in the bluestem grasses; shadows shrink and the sun
hurries to settle its body for the night. Air cooling,
the meadowlark tests its lungs.
~ ~ ~
Carol V. Davis received a 2015 Barbara Deming Memorial grant. She is the author of Between Storms (TSUP, 2012) and 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, Antioch University, LA and in winter 2015 in Ulan-Ude, Siberia. She is poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper the Jewish Journal.