Reviewed by Darby Laine
Nicelle Davis is often referred to as a weaver in review and description implying a distinct craftwork in the subject matter of her poetry. In Becoming Judas Nicelle writes of old myths intermingling with the new as she explores her own origins. The author writes of becoming a woman who has fully worked the disparate pieces together with a poet’s resounding precision.
I lighten my grip. You lighten your teeth. Our
bodies go lax. Slip right off the bone. We make
love without bodies. Nothing in the way. I ask
you to stay. You say, there is no such thing as
stay. We laugh like kids at church. We can’t stop.
The trouble we’re in is the greatest joke ever told.
So what has our modern poet, the peer-defined weaver, created for us here? Becoming Judas starts with a blush toward a biblical “rock-star suicidal” in acts filled with contemporary prophets. The intricate overlay, that is to say, the majority of the poems, embellish the work overall into a biographical tapestry. Well-loved Beatles melodies play in the background while the undertow of a poet’s up-bringing is depicted in brief chapter notes of prose and short poems.
The characters are worked into brief harmonies following the personal intervals of Davis’ subtle storytelling. The seemingly loose threads do take us to a home of sorts
“You made me- unmade me. And from
the raveling and unraveling you gave me
a tapestry-image of woman passing
the small stone of memory- hand to hand-
The subtle expression of the author’s own growth from girl to woman is in the empathic elucidation of Judas’ other, less-discussed role of saint and beloved disciple. The author expresses an understanding for the possible fate of those who, like Judas, are deeply loved, and she does it without bitterness or fear, an appreciative and graceful realist:
“Don’t go crazy on me now
Jesus says as you choke- sobbing,
But I love you, I love… …
We can get out of here Jesus,
You and me. Go someplace tropical.”
Davis testifies to the history of the Gospel of Judas, provides additions to its text and the New Testament alike. Other subjects include the Book of Mormon, musical definitions, the acts between McCartney and Yoko: familiar American myths of these modern days. Davis manages to say more in her bits that read like screenplay than other contemporary acts. Charles Manson comes in alongside the Yoko-McCartney-Lennon myth, and it’s a myth that has been explored before but Davis is in the poetic business here of re-writing, pointing out, reminding that certain characters demand deeper scrutiny, a better understanding of our own humanity. The poet keenly, honestly and gently salvages Judas and Yoko from the gossip and slander that historically follow the mention of their names.
It’s unfortunate that the artwork selected for publication in the book lacks the depth presented in the poetry adding unnecessary static through the story. To eschew the awkward graphics, I craft images of well-loved, hand-sewn puppets in my head as the characters rotate through the pages. Ragged dolls of Jesus and Judas stand together as children:
You don’t know the half of hating. Now. Start digging.
There’s Joseph Smith and The Lady of Babylon, a poet’s Mother, a poet’s lovers all intermingling on a small and dark stage. Hum along to your favorite Lennon song, smell the apples and the dirt of the pulled root, meanwhile, “Jesus and Judas are wrangling over spare change.”
Davis’ voice is mature, beyond any overt feminine or masculine tones, yet to our benefit Nicelle somehow remains a feminine writer; it’s just not a readily defined type of femininity, or, it’s a readily obscured type, as her own self-myth infers. This talented author’s living testimony is crafted as interpretation, extension of the old, a personal addition, Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis, the archetyping process of a woman exposed.
Darby Laine is a poet currently living in Burlington.