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  • A Lasting Sickness, and: Portrait of the Self as Skunk Cabbage, and: Someone Takes a Pine Tree Apart, and: Critique and Rebuttal, and: Smerdyakov with a Guitar
  • James Davis May (bio)
  • A Lasting Sickness
  • James Davis May (bio)

Five nights into fever, you lie in bedas your parents, urgent, move about youin the soft, almost birthday-candle-dim light.If you’re in pain, you won’t remember,though the fever’s so highit’s likely you’ve reached that euphoric statein which the dying or near-dyingsee the oblong silhouettes of angels,hear the shapeless voices of the dead.Instead, you see your motherwatching you, along with a vigilof good soldiers: the stuffed bears,the purple rabbit, the papier-mâché parrotperched on a painted hanger.Your father plunges a washclothagain into a mixing bowl of ice water,brings it to your head, and you fallback asleep to the sounds of your ownbeing cared for. If you were the boywho remembers this well afterforgetting the cause, if it haunts youlike, say, unrepeatable pleasureor a good dream you’ve never learnedto disbelieve, so that each sickness—pneumonia at eighteen, shinglesat twenty-three—reminds youof what others have done for youand what others will do, their handsworking your clammy wrists and brow,kneading the minty balm again and againinto your chest, if you began to believe, [End Page 71] as the boy did, that the worldnot only acknowledges your suffering,but turns to soothe it—what choicewould you have but to love that worldyou so appallingly don’t understand? [End Page 72]

James Davis May

James Davis May’s poems have appeared in Five Points, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, the New Republic, Pleiades, Tampa Review and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Inprint and the Krakow Poetry Seminar. In 2013 he won the Collins Award from Birmingham Poetry Review. The former editor of New South, he lives in Young Harris, Georgia.

  • Portrait of the Self as Skunk Cabbage
  • James Davis May (bio)

Maybe it’s like those hardred rubbery spathesthat in early spring—make that late winter—create their own heatand halo themselveswith soil wetfrom the snow they melt,a few degrees of advantagethe plant makes for itself,like its putrid odor: somethingthat almost survived the winterbut didn’t, convincingenough to court the thawed-out insects, those firstmindless urges of life.Dumb from winter’s boredom,my brother and Itrudged the frost-crusted creek mudin the woods behind our houseto where the stemsunfolded a too-bright greenwe hated because it was ugly,reminded us of nothingbut itself and thusreminded us of ourselves.A presence we wanted gone.So we slashed it downwith hockey sticks—each gash releasing the oilsthat made those rancid leavesmore rancid. Each year,the same ritual, the sameerasure of somethingthat we didn’t knowwe couldn’t erase.The plant, I found out [End Page 73] years later, grows downward:the roots pull the stemdeeper into the soil, too deep,a gardener told me,to kill it even if you wanted to. [End Page 74]

James Davis May

James Davis May’s poems have appeared in Five Points, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, the New Republic, Pleiades, Tampa Review and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from Inprint and the Krakow Poetry Seminar. In 2013 he won the Collins Award from Birmingham Poetry Review. The former editor of New South, he lives in Young Harris, Georgia.

  • Someone Takes a Pine Tree Apart
  • James Davis May (bio)

Because this summer the seventy-year-old pinesthe original residents plantedhave started falling on the neighborhood’s houses,splitting some as easily as cardboard boxes,many mornings have begun like this one,with a man climbing to the top branches,a chainsaw dangling from a rope around his waist.

Today, it’s our...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 71-79
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-17
Open Access
No
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