- Healing the Wound
Carol Ann Davis
153 Pages; Print, $17.95
Over the past two decades, mass shootings in schools across America rank as perhaps the most egregious and bewildering crime of modern times due to the unspeakable actions of the perpetrators and the demographic of the victims — young people, still innocent and with life still before them. In The Nail in the Tree: Essays on Art, Violence, and Childhood, essayist and poet Carol Ann Davis incorporates first-hand memories of assuredly the most horrific school shooting of recent times into a therapeutic chronicle that also offers perceptions on modern art, diverse literary references, and our bond with the natural world, as well as observations on raising two young sons and reflections of her own life growing up along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Essays that address the school carnage are presented without adherence to strict chronology at times, yet Davis delivers a cohesive work that is uncomplicated and interwoven with subtle, compelling, and poignant perspectives on the world around her and life as witnessed by a scholar seeking answers through informed observations, sometimes from the window of her study. Her prose is uncomplicated, almost conversational, straightforward, and inquisitive, and some essays are structured around short passages punctuated with subtitles, much like writings in a diary or journal. It is through this creation of literary agency that Davis does, indeed, become the storyteller, philosopher, and conveyor of sage observations in this short collection.
The fatal shooting of twenty very young children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012 is the foundation for the eight essays presented in Part One of The Nail in the Tree, which chronicles the years before and after. Davis and her family lived in a home on the outskirts of Newtown at the time of the shootings, and we learn the abode provided a sanctuary and healing place of sorts in the years that followed. A mother of two grammar-school aged sons — whose presence and impact on her life are featured regularly — Davis opens the work with a rhetorical question: How and when to inform a five and nine-year-old that a tragedy took place at a grammar school in their community. It is a challenge that other parents of young children in Newtown and elsewhere in the nation had wrestle with that year in the middle of what should have been a joyous holiday season. Early in the debut essay, subtitled the day of the shooting, Davis recounts learning of the massacre while teaching a university class:
Ninety seconds pass — not that long, less than a minute — before it is clear to me that Hawley School is not the site of the shooting, but Sandy Hook, a school closer to our house but by an accident of zoning not my children’s school.
This revelation — a municipal government decision beyond the control of Davis and her family that spared her sons from potentially being physical or emotional casualties — propels her to write about the long-standing impact of the massacre and its ramifications over her psyche in the years ahead. In the third essay, “The Practice of School Busses and Hummingbirds: in the year that comes after,” Davis describes the impetus as “the aftermath, and the after-aftermath which is the present moment from which I’m writing, all of it new and impossible to comprehend.” Davis grapples with how to maintain some semblance of normal daily life as a mother, writer and professor who oversees her sons boarding the school bus, and how to push forward; she does so by recording observations of a hummingbird during the last weeks of the summer season, referencing musings of thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi and interpreting the symbolism of the mythological one-eyed, one-tooth Graeae sisters. (One certainly can ascertain that the author is not bound by literary genre or century for inspiration!) Davis states that she’s unable to arrive at a...