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Luminous Other

How to Paint Light

                        To paint light you must return to that first raw surface

like the wall of a room


in the lives of rooms you never knew.

                        Return to sheetrock, shiplap, memoryless stone,



                        or to striations of sun at the bottom of a lake

before shadow accumulates layer by layer.


You must work backwards against pigment,

                        and dust. Pain and ash. The swift current



                        of human memory sealing out dawn. 

You must close your eyes until you see


your dozing grandmother rock history to sleep.

                        You are a child in her arms.


               —for Chelsea



I’m braiding my daughter’s hair,

crossing over one strand and one strand.

Leaf-shadows play on the closed blind,

rippling, rippling.

Nothing keeps in the continuum

of light and wind outside the window.

I hold wildness in my hand.

We continue, one strand and one strand,

the undulating curls and coils

falling along her neck, her shoulders.

I drop one hair, then another.

Though I’m not much good at this,

she is patient.  Her head in my hands,

she leans in, tugs away, as do I,

crafting what we can of the morning.

I’d like to believe I’ve saved her

from chaos, but more likely,

she humors me, and before afternoon

she’ll shake her braids,

let all that hair unravel.


Robin Davidson is the co-translator of the Polish poet Ewa Lipska’s The New Century and Lipska’s example radiates through her own work. Robin was crucially influenced by her Fulbright in Kraków. She brings an unusual sense of history, especially as it impacts women, into her own very American poetry. Her work is deeply engendered, and she writes of ordinary women—rooted in earth, reaching for light—caught between personal, social, and historical forces. She is a learned poet—her work rings with the work of photographers, painters, and other poets—who understands the work of poetry to bring light of darkness and music out of silence. She is a poet of harsh luminosity, spiritual alertness, who has been growing into the fully realized artist she was always meant to become. 

—Edward Hirsch


In Robin Davidson’s poems we hear the inner voice of someone who’s vulnerable and yet strong, introverted yet keenly observant—these are blessed tensions…                                                                                           

—Adam Zagajewski


These beautiful, wise and moving poems live in the shadow of history and art. They inscribe a contingent world where, as the sign above the “Main Street Fire Sale” reads, “New losses arrive daily.” In the face of such inescapable loss, the speaker of another poem is prompted to ask the question that haunts all human life: “How can I sing when I know / I will die?” And the answer comes back as another question, the only answer there can be: “When I know I will die, how can I keep silent?” Luckily for us, Davidson can’t keep silent; she sings. 

—Susan Wood 

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