Joyce Ellen Davis is a grandmother of eight and a writer from Salt Lake City, Utah, where she resides with one husband, two dogs, and a lovebird. Her novel Chrysalis received a $5,000 publication grant and was nominated for the American Book Award. Her first poetry collection, In Willy’s House, won her a USPS Laureate Award. She has also co-authored a poetry textbook, On Extended Wings. Her blog, following the little god, is a miscellany of opinions, pictures, and poems. The welcome mat is always out.
Meet one-eyed, opera-singing Pepek who flees war-ravaged Europe haunted by the ghost of a policeman he killed for beating a horse. He’ll lead you down the cobblestone streets of Okres Krupina, take you digging for oysters, “those jelly-kisses from the sea”, and treat you as an honoured guest at his wedding to Bata, “his little Shoe”, where “someone plays a balalaika and sings the Bride’s Lament during the splitting of the braid”. Turn the heavy brass knob, push open the door and step into Joyce Ellen Davis’s enchanted world. You may never wish to leave.
“I would like to crawl inside Joyce Ellen Davis’s mind. In Willy’s House, she did exactly that with her great-grandfather. With subtle energy and clean poetic choices she told a raw, touching story which buried itself inside readers’ hearts. Now that highly creative, scientific mind gives us an “uncle”, Pepek the Assassin, whom the reader forgets is an invention: he and the other characters in his world are surprising, compelling, utterly real. And then Davis does it again, switching, in Telling Who Passed By, to an introspective examination of a woman’s life, every poem distinguished from the one before; each startling; the whole, unburdened by naïveté. I don’t think Pepek or these rare ruminations could have been born in anyone else’s mind.”
– Marilyn Bushman-Carlton
from Pepek the Assassin
Pepek, my uncle
Has but one eye. He likes
To imagine that the other
Is in a museum in Okres Krupina,
By the River Krupinica,
Skewered on the point
Of a German policeman’s bayonet
Like a pearl onion on a shish-ka-bob.
The policeman, who was beating
Swapped his life
For Pepek’s eye, a poor trade.
Now at 5 a.m.
Horses still pull milkwagons through
The streets of Krupina,
While Pepek, my Uncle,
Eats cold cereal flakes
In his kitchen in Connecticut,
Grows fat on raspberries and cream.
In the spring, Pepek digs for oysters,
Those jelly-kisses from the sea.
He cracks their locked doors
With the hard points
Of his middle fingers,
And swallows them raw.
He wears a straw hat while he works,
Sweat pours into his shirtsleeves
Like seawater. He is frightened.
He is ashamed, and stares into the sun
Until his tears crawl out. His eye
Is a slit black as a flatiron
As he tries not to remember
How he once killed a policeman
For beating a horse.
Requiem aternam dona eis, Domine
February seems a long way off
now the brush is green, the water blue.
The lake was frozen white,
slush at the edge
where big rocks were black. The boys
skipped stones across the ice
and everything looked cleaner
than it was. The boys
were having contests, seeing who
could throw the farthest
and we turned away to see how clouds
were building and breaking.
Turning back, we saw that he
was gone. There was no sound,
not a whisper, nothing
but the same quiet
where he slipped under the ice.
March brings migratory birds,
cedar waxwings, robins, orioles.
We feed them blessed ends
of sacramental bread
for weaving requiems
from Pepek the Assassin (Pindrop Press, 2011)
Order Pepek the Assassin.
Visit Joyce’s blog.