Cortney Davis has divided this collection of her poetry into seven major sections which she calls “Voices.” The first and last sections are “Voices of Healing” which frame and wrap around the others: “Home,” “Desire,” “Suffering,” “Faith,” and “Letting Go and Holding On.” The sections include previously published poems as well as new ones.  Davis is known for her ability to see and understand what is going on and to express that in ways that help the reader “get it.”  This collection also shows her ability to hear the unique voices that express suffering, faith, desire—and to convey empathic understanding of the speaker.  Sometimes she gets angry with the speaker. The poems range through time, from her childhood, nursing training, nursing experiences, deaths of her parents, to more current experiences with grandchildren.  Throughout there is a consistent caring and compassion, mixed with many other feelings, many of them contradictory.


Because many of Cortney Davis’s published poems are already annotated in this database, I have chosen to concentrate on several new ones in this collection. In the opening section, “Voices of Healing,” she describes her terror when the young psychiatric patient she was observing locked her in his room with him. Her ability to sit still and not show panic apparently allowed the highly disturbed patient to eventually unlock the door.  But she finds out later, after she had gotten an F for not turning in a report on him, that the agitated patient had thrown “an orderly down the laundry chute, killing him.” To supposedly compensate for her trauma, the nursing supervisor gives her an easy patient, “an old man I danced with that Friday afternoon.”  The reader, like the nurse, is caught between the contrasting experiences.

 Another poem of contrasts, “Mastectomy,” compares the doctor’s voice and the nurse’s.            

Histologic, he hisses          
Into her teeth, spits fatal. . . 
After her mastectomy surgery, 
The woman wakes                   
   to the drone            
of the doctor’s voice,           
his litany of statistics . . .  

But the nurse says,
  I’ll tell her the human words:             

 Her brief words contrast in every way with the doctor’s drone and snake-like hiss.  This poem presents a more profound difference than just styles of talking with patients. It’s about fundamental attitudes.   

The collection includes many family poems, several about her relationships with her father and mother, including three devoted to death bed vigils.  In some poems, memories get triggered by a radio program or a book or a picture, sending the narrator across time to an earlier experience, such as watching the moon landing on TV with the children or getting ready to leave her husband.  Always Davis grounds the memory in concrete detail, giving the feelings a realistic, tangible setting.   

The section, “Voices of Faith,” includes eight new poems.  “Holy Thursday” especially surprised me.  I did not expect the nurse-narrator to be looking for the Holy Ghost out her window. Nor did I expect her to say,

            I feel the Spirit hovering in the syntax of poems. . .

Davis creates an unusual mixed mood of the sacred and the mundane.      
Ever since I was a child,                    
I wanted to spend my life in praise.           

 Instead, I eat breakfast and go to work,       
 lay hands on the sick and the mournful,              

the mothers who sit before me,           
ripe with new life or emptied by loss.  

The lucky ones lift their newborns; I look into their eyes,           
that blue gelatinous haze.  Surely              

the Holy Ghost is looking back           
from those dark pupils.  And yet, even now, at poem’s end                       

the earth does not quake; the curtain, not yet torn,           
does not shiver in the breeze.  

So even though, like a priest, she lays hands on the patients, the closest she comes to seeing the Holy Ghost is in the newborns’ eyes.  Then all action stops before the Good Friday signs of Jesus’ death, which also means it stops before the promise of Easter.  This poem, like many of Cortney Davis’s works, expresses deep spiritual searching without confident finding.  The reader is left with the sense that the search will go on, but it may never be satisfied. Not yet, anyway.                    


Antrim House Books

Place Published

Simsbury, CT



Page Count