after Ambrose Bierce (The Devil’s Dictionary)

Devils want to thrust
the business end of a pin
into humanity’s metaphorical eye.
They often regret their dance
as angels on its tiny silver head
and the question of how many.
But I know they once aspired
to rock rows of cradles,
their wings draped
over sleeping infants;
pluck harps to soothe
cows in farm stalls,
so that milk would flow sweetly;
blow zephyrs that float
the train of a bride’s gown
when rain muddies the path
to the church door.
Now they are
heaven’s woeful error,
permitted only to make misery
in an up-close and personal way,
while I am the author
of my own laws and fate.
When I put on a coat,
devils slide down my sleeves
to tease my fingertips,
malevolent with arthritic spasms.
They fly in a dismal swarm of pixels
from photographs and phones
to bite the back of my wrist
like gadflies who remind:
You are going to die someday
and you won’t know when or how.
And all because they nurse a grudge
against free will and self-determination,
the powers they relinquished.
They want to bury themselves
in the marrow of my bones
in the flesh of my thighs
and steer me,
a child on a rusty bicycle,
over the edge of the abyss.

Behind the Magic 8 Ball

Alfred Carter invented a device
that told your fortune
by random turns of a watery tube
containing worded dice.
He took a cue from his clairvoyant mother,
who’d conversed with spirits
and claimed she’d met the ghost
of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

There was money to be made,
but Alfred couldn’t get it right.
He died before his business partner
created a profitable round design,
with a black eight circled in white,
like the Brunswick billiard ball
of treacherously pivotal power
that sinks a win, or kills your game
in one unlucky stroke.

The Magic Eight Ball holds a reservoir
where an icosahedron plastic part
swims in cloudy blue alcohol,
and 20 die faces will answer
my yes or no questions.
In the window of this shadowy sphere,
I see what’s possible through vague replies:

Will my investments make me rich?
Don’t count on it.
Has my husband always been faithful?
Better not tell you now.
Will I live a long, healthy life?
It is decidedly so.
Do my dead relatives watch over me?
My sources say no.
Should I move to another country?
Signs point to yes.

I rationalize there’s no difference
between what this toy predicts
and my particular intuition.
I grasp it with its window facing down,
ask a final question, then turn it up again
to see a die face press against the glass
a chance mathematical response,
sending ominous raised letters
from the murky depths.

Wooden Stairs

I contemplate the ordinary act
of climbing stairs to reach another level,
bearing weight up risers onto flat platforms,
the grainy lids of every step.

One, two three, four, five, six,
and I am walking the narrow hallway,
a clean canvas, empty of family portraits
or paintings of garish landscapes.

The maple stairs are box upon box,
raising the lower room to the next floor —
a stationary escalator in the middle
of a three-story, split-level home.

I question how others might perceive them
and remember last evening, when I visualized
a burnished hardwood pyramid
glowing in mystic lamplight.

I reached the pinnacle half out of breath,
gazing at the lower region of the living room
and its sage oriental rug, as if I had scaled
a strange country’s plateau to view a meadow at dusk.

My old tortoiseshell cat clambered up behind me
to break my reverie and scamper down,
uncertain of her destination,
eyes foolish with amazement.

Widow in Pink Shirt
for Diana
She opens the wardrobe
to remove his favorite
brushed cotton shirt,
and thinks about
how well it paired
with a navy-blue blazer.

Draping the fabric
over her shoulders,
she buttons it tenderly
with slender fingers,
and brushes her silver hair
in front of the mirror.

She doesn’t dress it up
with amethyst bracelets,
signature silk scarves,
or pearl earrings,
just a casual pair of capris,
swirling with fuchsia.

The shirt is love’s remnant.
What absence emptied
is filled again.
A young man appears,
wearing the past
at memory’s front door.

Light blonde curls
wisp her forehead.
He reaches out
to tuck her arms
under pink sleeves
neatly cuffed.

The Accident

I wield an electric trimmer
and daydream that I am
the goddess of vernal hedges,
swinging my scepter
above tall arbor vitae.

Who else would dare
to lop the highest branches,
and lift the buzzing tool
with one hand only
as its sharp blades roll?

Treacherous with gravity,
it falls toward earth,
and I am bitten by steel teeth.
I feel the thumbnail split in half,
and the painful slicing of flesh.

I squint and stare in shock
at what was nearly severed.
My brief immortality has ended
with a trickle of red
speckling the grass.

Donna M. Davis is a former high school teacher. She owns a small desktop publishing and résumé writing service in Camillus, NY. She is an avid gardener with a love of native plants. Her work has appeared in 7 consecutive Slipstream Poetry Review anthologies, Our Changing Earth Anthology, The Raven’s Perch, Raw Art Review, The Comstock Review, Third Wednesday, Down in the Dirt, CC&D, Stoneboat, Front Porch Review, Pudding, Ilya’s Honey, Halcyon Days, Muddy River Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Homestead Review, Burningwood Journal, and others. Most recently, she was first runner-up in The Raw Art Review’s Charles Bukowski poetry contest and was nominated by Slipstream Poetry Review for the XLVI Pushcart Prize.