“Nostos” by James Davis May

James Davis May


We had not quite been arguing
that night—but talking, discussing
how I answer any mood of yours
that falls below cheery contentment
with a litany of solutions,
as if trying to help you find
the right word for a crossword puzzle.
Sometimes the heart wants to be sad
and say so and be heard, you said,
or seemed to be saying,
as we followed our dogs out the door
into the yard, the carport light
startling awake at our presence
and then nodding off again.
You’ll remember that it was late,
our neighbors hours into sleep,
so we spoke softly even as we began
to really argue, this time
about who locked the door
on our way out. You’ll remember
that we gave up our prosecutions
when we realized one of us
had to hold the brittle ladder
while the other climbed to the window
we thought might be unlocked.
Part cat burglar, part narcissistic voyeur,
I paused after unfolding myself
into the room, observing
what we were when we weren’t there.
The television, mid-conversation,
prattling on without us; my beer still cold,
unmoved. You’ll remember
how the tails behind you wagged,
how happy we were to have back
what we had. I remember
I felt so heroic giving that to you
by just opening the door, which
I can tell you now, I’m certain I shut.

from Rattle #43, Spring 2014
Tribute to Love Poems


James Davis May: “I’ve always liked Czeslaw Milosz’s claim that ‘the purpose of poetry is to remind us/ how difficult it is to remain just one person.’ I’ll modify that quote, though, slightly: The purpose of poetry is, sometimes, to remind us how difficult it is to be a person. That is, by testifying what it’s like to be a person, poetry defends (both justifies and protects) that flimsy—some say mythical—thing the self.”

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