There are a handful of books I’ve read in my life that possess the supernatural ability to neatly fold up their pages to a point and draw a deep line in the sand, marking clear “befores” and even clearer “afters.” The books that leave whispers all over your body when your light turns out the rest of the day. The ones that, after closing, you say a prayer over. Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ Haint, published this year by Gival Press, is one of those books.
Beginning to end, Cross Davis beckons her readers to shine a light and to witness the slow magic of a soul’s journey through life’s knowings and unknowings. With searing, seductive, tumultuous voice, the poet seamlessly moves us from the sweet candy wrappers and urgency of childhood in “Ode to Now n’ Laters” to the soft wisdom that comes from unmet expectations and unrelenting loss in poems like “Work Calendar” and the devastating “Knell.”
A total of fifty-six poems broken into three sections, Haint speaks its truth through poems that both reaffirm the human experience and demand a different viewpoint. Full disclosure—as a young, white (and therefore privileged) woman, there are poems in this collection which harken to experiences I never had and/or will never have. For example, “Brown Sugar,” one of my favorites for its finesse and structure, carefully navigates the universal concerns of adolescence while speaking to the deeper struggle of coming of age as a minority in America, dealing with the relentless comparisons of skin and hair. The deep beauty of this collection comes in the artistic sophistication in the author’s ability to allow the reader a small, clear window into a journey both familiar and unfamiliar.
Having experienced Haint at a time in my life when adulthood seems to be coalescing, I found myself particularly drawn to the overt celebrations and meditations on what it means to grow and mature as a woman—the power of our bodies, our movements, our inhales and exhales, our desires and our losses. “The small of my back (your hand here)” recognizes the elegance and solemn ritual in passionate love, while “He Can Get The Panties” prompts us to challenge the image of women as demure and revel in all it means to desire and be desired. At the same time, the stories told in this collection wring out the shadows of my hopes, dreams, and doubts of someday-motherhood as the author relates the devastation of uncertainty, trial and failure, the sadness of loss.
One of the more interesting aspects of Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ compilation is the way it intertwines personal narratives with the stories of others, creating a mosaic that moves through life, illustrating the relationships between one persona and another. Poems like “Fifteen” and “Dear Diary”—the former seeming to narrate the author’s burgeoning recognition of lust, with the latter inspired by the deaths of two infants in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, born of two young girls who could have been the author, or me, or you. These voices ask that we reflect, that we take a few moments after inhaling every word to admit that we may not have the answers.
This is all to say that Haint stays close. It hovers above our bed frames at night. It’s a reminder that, like the title suggests, we all have our ghosts. At some point, we will all look in the mirror and remember our scars, our quiet corners in the hospital waiting-room, our simple and momentous triumphs in finding what was once lost. Like these lines from the opening poem, “Fade To Black,” this entire collection reminds us that our lives are the unfinished business of attempting to truly see ourselves:
the close-up—a mirror, and I am discovering
how slow love is, even slower acceptance
but traveling down the road I was born to know.
Come hear Teri Ellen Cross Davis read her work at The Turning Wheel (formerly Fear No Lit), a monthly reading series held at DogStar Books. The event will take place Thursday, August 11 at 7 pm, at 401 West Lemon Street, Lancaster PA.
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is a Cave Canem fellow and has attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work can be read in: Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC; and the following journals: Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Gargoyle, Natural Bridge, Torch, Poet Lore and The North American Review. Recently she has appeared on The Kojo Nnamdi Show (WAMU 88.5) and the Hay Festival Kells in Ireland. Her first collection, Haint is published by Gival Press. She lives in Silver Spring, MD. More can be read about Teri at www.poetsandparents.com.