David Havird

David Havird

David Havird is the author of two collections of poetry, Map Home (2013) and Penelope’s Design (2010), which won the 2009 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. His poems have appeared in Agni, The New Yorker, Poetry, Sewanee Review, Yale Review and elsewhere.

A native South Carolinian, he attended the University of South Carolina, where he studied under James Dickey, and the University of Virginia. In addition to poems, he has published articles on such southern writers as James Dickey, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Spencer, and Allen Tate. He teaches at Centenary College of Louisiana.

All poems below from David Havird’s new book, Map Home (Texas Review Press, 2013).


The Nazis, who occupied Crete,
machine-gunned the men of Anoyia
and torched the town.

The widows took up weaving.

Tablecloths, coverlets, shawls
hang for sale from wires,
while women in black swoop down
as if from telephone posts
on summer tourists—hordes,
odds are, of Germans. You get out
of the rented Fiat Panda,
and buzzards throng.

Yet look at this embroidery,
red birds amid green foliage,
by one who plunged through the cloth
as if beak first with her needle,
leaving within the cotton
weave her sensual self,
while another emerged in black wool.

Now she’s choosing you,
not because you’re you
(or happen to be an American),
but simply because you’ve stopped.
She’d have you choose her work,
and drachmas will prove that you came.

Of course she’ll stay in black,
however scorching the season.
She’ll grasp at the tourists, half of whom
might as well be you
as someone else;
and if that one returned
miraculously home,
would he know her, his wife,
among the anonymous sisters?

Though you could never again
strain uphill to Anoyia
and spot among the pinched widows
the woman whose birds now roost
above your bed at home,
you keep her generous spirit.

And yet those birds overhead
might as well be black,
as night has them appear;
they never sing nor fan
their wings. Beside you your wife,
as if asleep, breathes wordlessly.

You fix your mind on sleep
and dreams, which you never remember.
You’re feeling yourself unravel.
You’re hunting among loose threads
for that one strand, your code,
which only her voice can break
into song. You stream through green,
where she has posed in red feathers.

Originally appeared in Seneca Review


The royal family boasted a summer villa
a mere three kilometers west
of Phaistos. Ayia Triada.

Low walls of tan stone, no columns.
Beyond an olive grove, blue mountains.
Cumulus dressing the peaks.

Behind my wife, who holds
the hand of our daughter, I climb
the stone steps out of the excavation.

He’s stationed himself at the top: white blouse,
black knee pants and boots, black scarf
like a skullcap, knotted in front.

His leathery face wears a week of white stubble.
He takes from his lips an inch of cigarette,
positions deep in his mouth a handmade reed whistle,

and toots. His fingers flutter over the holes.
He offers it first to our daughter, who’s sucking
her thumb. No trade. We purchase instead

a puny orange apiece, then strike out
up a red path, in search of shade for our picnic.
Look though I do, I cannot find the horse

my wife and even my daughter place
beside a fence of posts and sagging wire
at the foot of the path. We wondered,

was it the man’s? Or so my wife has imagined—
who did as he instructed
and furrowed her tongue around the wet reed.

Whatever inspired me to keep
bleached melon rinds, chicken bones,
the hairy blue bee that chased away my daughter?

Beneath a laurel, opposite us,
she’s making a mess of her orange,
the only one of the three not overripe
or corrupt with a tumor cocooning a maggot.

I climbed out of a ruin only to squat
in litter. Hugging my knees,
my weight on the rock-bruised bones of my butt,

I kept an eye on a stream of ants, the other
on lunch: cheese pies and baklava.
The heat-thinned honey had run and soaked the pies.

The Cretan sun was boiling me down to glue.
Where was that horse with wings?

Originally appeared in Texas Review


A Still Life

Those bits of terracotta are pottery shards.
Some of them even display a trace
of geometrical design. And here’s
the cove below that spot, blue now
which had been green, on what had been
the shaded side of the citadel. There on that ledge
when we were peering down at the cove—was it
a fox? Fox it became when it uncurled.

Now this, encircled by weeds,
is the hewn stone mouth of maybe a cistern.
The poet Seferis, when he was here with his wife,
disturbed a bat. Losing its hold,
it came at the sunlight. A spear at a shield.
Maybe the King of Asini’s gibbering ghost.

In Homer’s catalogue of ships,
to which Asini contributes,
the King is nameless. This absence
provokes in Seferis such nostalgia
he’s able to touch the stones where he touched them—
where maybe he did, the points of contact
regardless abraded by time—
and trace there a palpable presence.

Whether those rocks, that limestone,
ever belonged to the castle,
the Swedes who dug here would know. I’m posing
right on the edge of the spur. Posing
as if I own it. Tolo is there—
those white hotels and tavernas lining the shore.
And that on the island’s a chapel—the roof, terracotta.

My gaze embraced the bay
while I returned in thought to the cistern.
As I imagined things, its depth,
escaping the reach of our flashlight,
adhered to our soles; and our shadows,
repulsed by the shield-bearing sun,
deepened a shade underfoot.
I pictured off the coast of our home state
the crude oil billowing up
through deepwater’s ruptured horizon, tar
capturing even this bay.

The purple thistles, which we had to dodge,
were leaning to snag the westering sun.
The zeal of bees in the lavender blossoms
gave the heat the scent of thyme.
We’ve now retraced our steps, and here we are—
or rather here’s our table under a cedar:
horiátiki, yes, Greek salad,
eggplant imam, giant beans,
a sweating carafe of young white wine from Nemea.
“I glanced away, then back and found it gone,”
I say of the fox.
The red fox that awoke in the yellow weeds.

Originally appeared in Town Creek Poetry


We were led to the plot,
a cypress-thronged gray horizontal slab
in a flourishing field of harvested stones,

were led to the grave of the poet
whose name, though recently cut,
was losing its letters to redolent shades,

by one of those guests of the city
that make you guests of theirs,
playing host because you too could be
mendicant gods on your way—

I thought of that brown cur as a poet himself,
impoverished, his song become one note
and it an ambiguous bark
holding other wayfarers off
or summoning us,
his head turned, shaggy ears alert—

who then returned us to that arena
where athletes, their games
miming the contest of life,
had crackled like torches, dancing;

limping led us,
limping as though the snake
that seized Eurydice
had taken Orpheus instead, who hobbled
but only as if reluctant,

never looking back at us
though now the radiant chill of the marble
emptied the stadium even of echoes.

First Cemetery, Athens


On Ithaka there was the one,
Argos alert in his sleep on a dunghill
awaiting his master the hero’s return;
in Athens here were the many,
the lean, gray one that marched
ahead of the field commander
and then, the soldiers now at attention
(evzones in red berets, white pleated kilts),
a shaggy one, those mutts together
hiking a leg … because, you see,
there was no hero not
to piss on, only his cenotaph and it
boasting no name. Behind us
pigeons were flocking; a child, arms wide,
was doing her best, a pigeon
perched on a forearm, to turn
into marble. Then they were
fanning the air and, settling again,
mobbing the square, those anarchists,
where the butts of rifles, the red
clogs of the guards, who were changing,
made thunderclaps on the marble
and they, that pair of guards,
stretched slowly out a leg, a crane’s,
despite the toe’s black pompom, yes,
a crane’s long leg, the glittering square
doing its best to turn
into marsh. Adopted by still another,
maybe we were only disguised
as tourists; maybe we were the heroes, home
or not, sniffed out by a herding dog
that may himself, a well-fed guest
of the city, have been a god
in disguise, white with a mantle
of fawn, who answered to Glykas.

[Glykas = Sweetie]


I loafe and invite my soul—Walt Whitman

“Miss home?” she asked. I picture the sweetbay there
by the privacy fence, its nibbled leaves,
a green cocoon on the underside of a leaf.
Miss home? I keep its house, a chrysalis
of cares. At home, though, I don’t mix
with cats, while here I stroke the back
of the longhaired tabby that stalks me
at breakfast. Scatter dander and do not sneeze.
Pet even the scruffy, black new mother
that blew gunk from her crusty nose
onto one of the trees in the courtyard,
a lemon tree’s white-painted trunk. And eye
without disgust their shit on the cobblestones.
Likewise the strawy dung of the donkeys,
which snort and bray below my window
right as the bells of the quayside cathedral,
clashing at 7, get done with their clamor.
And time myself to the clopping of hooves,
the roosters’ daylong blasts of dawn,
the bacchic coos—one short, two long—of the doves,
the clicking of beads at the harbor where locals
shoot the breeze, their workday done.
My spirit, furled within its chrysalis
but sensing nectar, times itself. I picture
the sweetbay, that host, and scent from afar
the yellow jasmine. Alone on the headland
I loiter, worries sifting bead
by clicking bead through my fingers, and smell,
before I see, wild thyme. Which butterfly
did I exhale? A throng of marbled whites
on the thymy spur, while off by itself on the brink
a swallowtail. A tiger swallowtail
burned white in a blink by the blinding bay.


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All poems on this post: © David Havird
Published with the permission of David Havird