Le Artiste (12)

Le Artiste

for Donald

At the age of five
I ceased to be afraid of monsters under my bed

At the old house
My Uncle Donald, an artist,
Chased my brother and I for hours
It was a game
Laughter bubbled from our throats and
Bounced off the walls of our room and
Made a home under our beds

We fought with pillows
And hid
And sought

That weekend, you left us
And because I was five
I remember precious little

The deliciousness of not-real fear
Your shiny brown skin
Your wide and toothy smile
You seemed so tall
So invincible at seventeen

Your paintings still hang in the dining room

My mom, your heartbroken sister,
Remembers much more than I
I wish now that you and I could talk about art and
Bond over the capricious nature of the creative process
We would understand each other

I am grateful, Uncle

Because of you
I still believe that Laughter,
Not Monsters,
Lives under my bed

And I am brave


(c) Davita Joie 2016

Premonition (11)


for Grandpa Eddie

Grandpa’s gut was tingly and hot and it had nothing to do with his wife’s cooking

He knew, the way the ancestors knew,
When the slave traders were on the coast, moving in silence,
That his oldest daughter was in danger

Her voice didn’t sound right that last time
She worried about a
Strange Man hanging around the bus station where she worked

Following her with his eyes

She was beautiful

First of her name, neé Rose Etta
After her grandmother, of the House Westbrook

His ears burned, panic slithered up his spine

He could feel it
His bones never lied

He paced the floor in front of the window
Other babies on the couch, face lit by candlelight due to the raging storm
The ten year old watched him with worried eyes and wrinkled brow

He always had the car serviced before a trip
She was oiled and full of gas, ready to gobble the highway between
Holyoke and Albany
As soon as the golfball-sized hail stopped
Pummeling every in its path

The vise around his heart kept tightening
The more he thought of the first of his seven girls
The more he heard her voice, yelling for him down a long corridor
Daddy! Daddy!

His heart nearly stopped beating.

He wrote a letter instead, to free his heart from all he was feeling.
In his sharecropper’s hand, he put his soul on that paper
All his concerns, his fatherly promises

The letter was returned, eventually

After the troopers came to the back door.
After the screams.
After the burial of his murdered girl, beloved Pie

When the letter came back, stamped ‘undeliverable’,
The finality of it settled in the grooves around his face
Replacing the laugh lines
Wrinkled by hot sun and hot grief

He was never the same

His heart was shattered
Not like shards of glass but
Ground into a diamond-dust powder
Razor sharp, shimmery

Cluck (10)


For Uncle Clarence

Uncle, remember the boy next door
The summer we came to visit?
The Jamaican boy with the cocoa-brown skin
And the ocean blue eyes
He took that ten speed everywhere, too fast
I was only nine years old but he introduced me to yearning and danger
You lived in Buffalo then

Uncle, remember the trip to New York
Before our flight to Germany? Stories of your youth –
Prostitutes and junkies on the streets, all very seedy
Reminded me of my favorite,
Starsky and Hutch
Preferred the televised version to the
Stench of the live
You saw the fear in my eyes and promised I was safe
I was eleven.

Uncle, do you remember that you gave me permission to move to California? You vowed to look out for my mother.
You didn’t like the idea of me being so far away but you
Promised when the Big One hit, you would come and rescue me
All I had to do was find a floating piece of land, and hold on.
Somehow I knew, this was no empty promise. I loved that you called us all
Your sisters
Your nieces

I’m sorry you were alone at the end, Uncle
You moved the pot off the fire
Even then, thinking of others before yourself

You sat down on the couch, as if to nap
Never to awaken
Except in my dreams
Where I hear your deep, soothing voice saying
Lovey, you’re safe.
I am here.
I’ll always remember your birthday
You’re always in my prayers
Hold on tight

(c) Davita Joie 2016

Naked (9)


It was the morning train
I missed the earlier one
By Providence or Luck
I do not know

Gray, weeping skies
Dreary start

Young couple, modestly and discreetly
Entwined at the hand
Whispering everything and

He leans in, kisses her forehead
She, with eyes closed, sighs deeply
His finger strokes her cheek

I am suddenly shy and overcome
I did not choose this keyhole yet
I am intruding, unintentionally
Witness to unmistakable tenderness

And I cannot turn away from its seductive pull

Though, no voyeuristic pleasure is derived, to be sure

Only a sharp, suffocating awareness of
Lack in my own journey and
I am mocked

I yearn for the earlier train
The one too early for lovers
Where my longing would not be quite so

© Davita Joie 2016

Sopa de Hueso (8)

Sopa de Hueso

I carry grief in my bones
Angry red and resigned yellow cells create healing in the marrow
Boil my bones and pain will seep out of its simmered confines
Leach out of the calcified webbing and create radiant strength
Angry red and resigned yellow cells create healing in the marrow
Drink deeply of the broth and you will sleep better, love longer, choose better
Calcified webbing yields, creates radiant strength
Drink deeply of the broth and you will sleep better, love longer, choose better
I carry grief in my bones
Ancestral sorrow woven into my joints
Boil my bones and pain will seep out of its simmered confines

© Davita Joie 2016

Clandestine [A Pantoum] (7)


He hid in the closet
While they threw the mother of his children from the fourth floor window
For his crimes
She had begged for his life once before, pleaded for the drug dealer who fathered her daughters

While they threw the mother of his children from the fourth floor window
He cowered in a haze of coke or heroin or weed
She had begged for his life once before, pleaded for the dealer of drugs who fathered her daughters

He cowered in a haze of coke or heroin or weed
He hid in the closet, silent
Her body, not made for flight, shattered on the pavement below,
because of his wrongdoing
For Willie’s crimes, For Willie’s crimes, For Willie’s crimes

(c) Davita Joie 2016


Doll (6)


For Paul

It was always your smile, Doll

The words are written yet rumble and roll through my belly like thunder

It is not the first time I have blushed when so addressed

The pitch-forked feminist on my shoulder thinks I should be offended, feel diminished

I do not

Instead, I feel something akin to cherished

Una flor del jardín
Bien cultivada, podada de las cosas negativas, de defectos

A well-watered orchid
Fragrant and glistening
Tongue-lavished by the sun

Say it again

Otra vez

© Davita Joie 2016

The Book of Words (5)

The Book of Words

for Mommy

In the Book of Words
Pictures hang alongside their Definitions
Images of the Faithful who embody their meaning

And by now, you should all know
What my mother looks like

She’s a supermodel

Her likeness appears under Sacrifice, and
Devotion, and Faithfulness as well as
Both Unconditional and Love
Just to name a few

She is famous

Behold the image with her three babies
Huddled in her bed while she reads stories

And with a broken-hearted daughter, head cradled in her mother’s lap, crying. Over a boy.

Another shows a curious beagle, punished by a porcupine disinclined to be
Sniffed and Studied

And Mom, hampered by a snowstorm that prevented a run to the vet
Wielding pliers to remove the dogged quills,
Ever the Compassionate Nurse.

Her picture is everywhere.

I am far less famous, but my picture is there too

Look under tired

See there?

That’s me

© Davita Joie 2016

Night Watch (4)

Night Watch

for Grandpa Eddie

Granddad’s slippers slap the hardwoods with purpose,
Rising and falling like a beaver’s tail
He walks the halls, opening and closing doors
Counts heads in bed
Watches chests rise and fall

Danger comes in the middle of the night
Sneaks up the back stairs
So he sits at his kitchen table in the North
Clad in a nightshirt and work pants and blackness
With a shotgun on his lap
Remembering the terror of the South

Ears pricked,
Dark orbs swaying like the swoosh of a cat’s tail

(c) Davita Joie 2016

Death and the Hatted Man (3)

Death and the Hatted Man

For Deloris and Rose Etta

Sister, Sister,
Wake up

I am in a car
Driven by a hatted man
I’ve never seen before
I need you
Chaser of bogeymans
Slayer of monsters who live under beds
And ghosts who sneak in at night to terrorize children with gas and fear

Numbered cars lumber to the church
To view you,

I wish you were here to hold my hand to
Fix the barrettes in my pressed hair to
Fiddle with my gloves and still the
Trembling of my hands
Whisper, “Don’t be afraid”

Sister, Sister
Wake up

There are rope burns around your neck!
Young, thin, helpless
A too tight purple necklace with
Scalloped angry edges
Forged in rage

Who clasped that hateful choker, Pie?

I want to shake you, Sister!
I want to shake your eyes open
Shake you ‘til you sit up
Shake you ‘til that grisly locket unlatches
Shake you ’til your trapped breath rushes from your lungs


Sister, Sister
Wake up

Jesus, please
Sister Pie

Wake now

I’m falling into darkess
Without you

© Davita Joie 2016