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"Triptych," a poem by Joyce Ellen Davis

Updated: Jul 1, 2021



We come whirling down

like lopsided angels, each of us

a riddle on the family tree.

All our Sunday faces

are strangers to a mother

who cannot remember

the hour of our singular births.

I know we must not show her

how many hearts beat under our ribs

or she will wrinkle

and burn away.

Your computer cannot integrate

our baby parts

with its thin blue lines

or its darting cursor

sewing all night

with a long string from belly to mouth.

Each of me is a basket

filled with bedsheets

& bone flakes

& inkwells.


She is three-in-one

A sort of trinity

Observe the three of her

That live here sometime

Sprouting like mushrooms

From a damp cave floor

Innocuous most of them

Most of the time

Fleshy umbrellas

Wild or edible or deadly

These are the two

She calls sister

Thrusting the silver rootlets

Of their lives

Into her body

She would gather them

With her fingers

Long knives

A harvest to be canned

Frozen or dried

Or squeeze them until they burst

Like puffs of smoke

The three of her

Feels everything

Pick one

Eat her with meat

While she is fresh

Before her babies come

She thinks she is real

Steps among the luscious caps

Carefully not to crush

The wild flesh of her

The edible flesh

The poisonous flesh

What are they doing for lunch

Stuff the three of her

Into your brown bag

Tell her to fuck off

Swallow her cold



Janus had but two heads

For God’s sake

And I have three—

One wood, one salt, one fire

Making demands, giving orders

Fire tells wood how to die with grace:

Stretch out under my red hands

Spit out your black widows

Grow daisies.

Salt tells fire:


I will smother you with crystal hands

Stop your red mouth

Ears, throat and belly with my white rocks.

When I come down

One of us is left.

She is not me. She will dissolve

And leak out with my tears, sweat, and menses

She will not get old

She will never see our skulls.


Joyce Ellen Davis is a native Californian transplanted to Utah, where her autobiographical first novel Chrysalis won first place in the Utah Fine Arts Competition. Her book of poems, In

Willy's House, won her the title of Utah Poet Laureatte. She studied Theater Arts at the Pasadena Playhouse and travelled around the USA and Canada with a Theater Road Company, and studied creative writing at the University of Southern California and the University of Utah. She has since written another novel and several more books of poetry. She is the mother of five sons, and grandmother of eight.

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