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Teri Cross Davis



Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint, (Gival Press, 2016) winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She has attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is on the Advisory Council of Split This Rock (a biennial poetry festival in Washington DC) and a member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective.

Her work has been published in many anthologies including: Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry JamGathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks and Not Without Our Laughter: poems of joy, humor, and sexuality. Her work can be read or is forthcoming in the following journals: Poet LoreNorth American Review, GargoyleNatural BridgeFledging RagSligo Journal, ArLiJo, MiPOesias, Torch, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Delaware Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, Mom Egg Review, and the Caregifted and Puerto Del Sol blogs.

She is the Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. and lives in Maryland with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children


Thank You Jesus


When the blue and red sirens pass you,

when the school calls because your child

beat the exam and not a classmate,

when the smart phone drops but does not crack,

the rush escaping your mouth betrays your upbringing:

thank you Jesus—a balm over the wound.

When the mammogram finds only density,

when the playground tumble results

in a bruise, not a broken bone,

like steam from a hot tea kettle

thank you Jesus—and the pent-up fear

vents upward, out. Maybe it’s a hand

over breast, supplication learned deeper

than flesh as if one could shush the soul,

the fluttering heartbeat with three words.

Maybe it’s not so dire—an almost trip on the sidewalk,

the accumulated sales total showing savings upon savings,

maybe it’s as small as an empty seat on the Metro

or maybe thank you Jesus—becomes the refrain

every time your husband pulls into the driveway,

alive and whole, and no one has mistaken him

for all the black, scary things. You mutter it,

helpless to stop yourself from the invocation

of a grandmother who gave you your first bible,

you say it because your mother, even knowing

your doubt as a vested commodity, still urges prayer.

You learned early to cast the net—thank you Jesus

and it’s a sweet needle that gathers the fraying thread,

hemming security in steady stitches. From birth

you’ve heard this language; as an adult

you’ve seen religion used nakedly as ambition yet

this sacrifice of praise, still slips past your lips,

this lyrical martyr of your dying faith.





“You almost scared us to death,” my mother muttered as she stripped the leaves from a tree limb to prepare it for my back.



My son nests—pawing

each pillow like a breast

fleshed out and so newly

forgotten. I’ve spanked him


once tonight. He takes turns

laughing, then crying, defiant,

then hungry. In his mouth

my name— all need. Pursed


lips plead, Mommy and I

am guilty of the same sin.

I miss his curled and tucked

weight. Embryo, the deepest


root yanked clean. This is why

babies are born crying

into this world, having held

fast to such an intimate tether


who willingly would let go again?

But today another white cop walked

free, another black body was still

on the ground. “Not indicted”


undoubtedly the future outcome.

Four years ago I crossed labor’s

red sea of pain to birth a boy—

no doctor hit his backside, now I raise


my hand to complete an act

older than me, breaking the black

back of the boy to make a man

who can survive in America.


Mommy he calls me and my teats

threaten to weep old milk at our stasis.

Both of us needing the succor of sleep,

both us fighting- him, to keep me near



me, punishing him to be left alone.

He crawls into my lap, his heart

is three, his body, a lanky four.


I cover him with a blanket


too thin to mean it. We rock

on the edge of his bed. Listening

to the symphony’s fourth movement:

the crescendo sweet, full of tension,


taut violin strings singing. I think

Mozart must have known something

of loving with such a tender fear

that it breaks you open like a welt


that bleeds to heal. Tonight I give up,

cuddling this boy so full of belief

in himself, I’m too tired with love

to beat it out of him.





no amount of dilation and suction

hemorrhaging and fever

could’ve erased you or

the pulp of your carved initials

made with the solid grasp

of a still forming hand


science tells me

you are still whispering

inside my bones

that years from now

cut me to the marrow

and microscopes will read

the rings of your insistent story

no matter the inconvenient

coupling of timing and desire


even now when the bloody show

disappoints our sharpening hunger

do you still cling or are you willing

to let another call my womb