Cortney Davis, “Old Men Name the Planets”

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time amongst nurses and CNAs these days, so I was pleased to see, on her website, Cortney Davis‘s words: “I write to honor my patients and the moments we share, and also to keep harm away—not with medicine but with memory. In my writing, nursing becomes a metaphor for how we care or fail to care for one another—our families, our neighbors, our lovers. For me nursing, like writing, is that human place in which nurturing and mystery meet.”

Here is a poem from her 1997 book, Details of Flesh, published by CALYX Books:


Old men name the planets and their moons;
seeing birds at the feeder
they watch the empty seed pods fall
like shooting stars.

My father writes copy in his mind at night.
Sleepless, he edits, sets the type,
goes to press. By morning
his words are ghosts in the sky.

I’ve begun to read the weather.
Today named rain before the thunder,
called the time and duration,
knew which way to turn my back

against the wind. Already,
I feel it going. Soon I too
will search for words:
nimbus   stratus   cumulus —

summers from remembered summers,
the smell in the air before snow.
Snowballs in my children’s hands
will be white and distant as the moon.


One thought on “Cortney Davis, “Old Men Name the Planets”

  1. This is a beautiful piece. It’s difficult for me to choose favorite lines because I’m afraid I’ll end up quoting the whole poem. I have to say I was captivated by these:

    “By morning
    his words are ghosts in the sky.”

    “knew which way to turn my back”

    I feel it going.”

    Thank you for sharing this poem with us.

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