Collaboration: The Walled Wife

“Mother and daughter I can have no longer, but wife I can and perhaps I shall find a better one.”
—Mircea Eliade, “Master Manole and the Monastery of Arges,” The Walled-Up Wife: A Casebook

The Walled Wife is a project that has haunted me for the past six years; it is my retelling of a story about a woman who is buried alive in hopes that her soul will hold up the walls of a church. “The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife,” is a folk song at least 1,000 years old; it is one of the most famous in the world, according to folklorist Alan Dundes. In an interview Dundes explains, “the song has inspired more than 700 versions — mainly throughout eastern Europe and India — as well as countless essays by scholars.”

Countless, he says.

Countless, I questioned, and so began exploring the many cases of women being buried alive. I compared variations of a song sung across the globe. The lyrics go: a wife is buried so a structure can rise—it implies a room is worth more than a woman, and as a place she approximates value.
I started to wonder if the architecture of intimacy is dependent on violence—if art is the ultimate form of violence—if woman, especially in the role of wife, are worth anything (or nothing) at all? Countless being the inverse of priceless, it would seem that this ballad proves that we are not worth much at all. It shows that the easiest thing in the world to replace is a wife—it says a woman is a thing.

I wanted to know if it was true—am I worthless—are we countless. For six years I’ve been burying myself alive trying to answer these questions; I’ve been using different materials and contexts to understand how and why this happens. And yes, this does happen; just recently (as in, in the past three months—as in, in the United States of America— two women were buried alive in their own back yards).

How? Why?

I allowed my students to immure me in cinder block
. I let my friends bury me in their backyard. I’ve put myself in situations that have stretched my comfort levels and distorted my understanding of reality—all to see if one life is worth anything at all?

Inside the grave I learned that life is worth living because it is countless—it is beyond commodification. It took the grave for me to understand this: life is worth living because I know how it feels to lie naked against the earth.

I attempted to write a book that freed the wife from walls; I failed. What I found in this story wasn’t freedom, but a love that surpasses time and space. Buried alive, the wife was able to love herself. I wonder, by her story, if anyone else will love her? I wonder if there are stories in this world, beyond all the stones told.

I cannot count the number of people who have helped me in this investigation, but I can name all of them. These include the women of AROHO. While at the 2013 retreat, I was able to work with filmmaker, Anita Clearfield. Anita graciously helped a group of us writers translate our work into visuals. In the months that followed the retreat, Anita and I worked with the very talented (and in every way beautiful) composer Silke Matzpohl to make the following film.

The First Hour Of Being Buried Alive In the Walls Of A Half-Built

Since death and events surrounding it are considered dangerous, it follows that those who directly deal with death both court danger and are dangerous. And, accompanying this dangerous status of women is power.

—Ruth Mandel, “Sacrifice at the Bridge of Arta,” The Walled-Up Wife: A Casebook

A sky
is eaten by clouds.

A ceiling
drops as shattered glass.

A tree
shakes from standing for flocks of feet.

A wall
is screaming as birds will yell—

A unified
cry before migration.

What was said—black bird to brown bird? What was it I saw?
A dirt path—

curious objects? Finches copulating while
a cat

swallows them. Fists for bodies,
they never

stop beating upon each

implying melody—pounding to open

like doors. Finality.
I feel
my voice,
a stone,

I threw long ago, but windows
continue crashing

as an indefinable
light, exits from me.

First printed in Manor House Quarterly

Numbers Matter: A Call for Support


Dear Friends,

I’m writing to tell you, numbers matter.

I have never understood numbers; I only know stories. It often feels like the only thing I’m good at is telling stories. This has been true for as long as I can remember.

In order to make it through any math class, I had to give each number a personality—a character. These characters divided into the Evens family and the Odds family. There were feuds, secrete love affairs, unrequited love, backroom business deals—in a way every math problem for me is like a day time television drama. I never solved a math problem for answers, but rather to realize a new set of dramatic challenges—to discover a new world.

As a kid, numbers were the stuff of magic. After reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the seventh time, and having delighted in the mysteries of combination-locks, I began doing long division (the most complex math I knew at the time) in every closet of my house. I would write problems on the back walls, thinking the answers would unlock a portal into a different world, a better world. I wanted to drink tea with Mr.Tumnus and eat Turkish Delight with the White Witch.

So it turns out, I wasn’t so wrong in my assumptions about numbers. Numbers are magic; they do open portals into a different world, a better world. I often, too often, shy away from one of the most important numbers in my creative life—how many copies of my book have made it into the world. For this, and other reasons, my numbers are low.

How many copies of Becoming Judas sold is an important number for many reasons, but primarily this number is crucial to my publishers. Red Hen took a risk on me—invested in me, in a way few have. They decided to see something in me and attempt to show (whatever that weird light is) to others. I simply can not let them down.

It is for this reason I’m turning to you, my other most important and magic number—my friends. Please consider purchasing a copy of Becoming Judas from Red Hen Press. Buying from the press directly is best for numbers. In the end, it all comes down to numbers. These numbers are the key to that mysterious combination-lock—they unlock my ability to live in a world of poetry. These numbers also allow the press to give other poets a chance to be published, to walk into an entirely new world.

If you are kind enough to purchase a copy for yourself or a friend, I will gladly send you tea and Turkish Delight. I will. I will write a poem just for you on the candy wrappers. Tea and candy are small thanks for such a great gift as giving someone another world–to support a dream, but maybe in another world–a world of poetry, this translates.


Thank you for your kindness, understanding, and support,
Nicelle Davis

Becoming Judas can be ordered here:

Honey: Beyond Baroque


April 27, 2014

Beyond Baroque

681 North Venice Blvd., Venice, California 90291
I am very excited to read at Beyond Baroque. It will be my first time reading at this historical and mythical locations; this will be a dream come true. Perhaps this is why I can’t sleep; or maybe it is too hard to sleep with an entire can of Aqua-net in my hair. No amount of pillow can save me from the helmet that my talented friend Melanie has cocooned me in.
I like costuming (if you couldn’t tell). Sometime I get criticized and questioned for not giving a “straight” reading. Often people want to know why feathers and rhinestones. I can’t think of why not feathers and rhinestones, so I do it.
I dress the part of the poem. When I read from Becoming Judas I’m layering generations of women’s stories. Tonight, I have to learn how my grandmother slept sitting up–dreamed without disturbing her new up-do; this ritual connects me to poems (and to her) in ways I never anticipated.  If I can’t directly talk with the dead, I can channel them–learn from them by “becoming” them. My grandmother was a brave and charismatic person. She is the last time I felt like I had a home. When she abruptly and unexpectedly died from carbon monoxide poisoning, my whole world fell a part.  This event carved wounds I feared would never heal. I even doubted that healing was possible on any level, until there was honey.

Over four thousand years ago, honey was used as a traditional ayurvedic medicine, where it was thought to be effective at treating material imbalances in the body. It has been found that honey does have healing properties–it is a natural magic that mends wounds and lengthens life. A street miracle–honey.

For this reading I want hair that reaches for heaven, want a dress made of gold, want to give everyone a spoonful of honey. I am very happy to say that I have a beehive hairdo stacked under a scarf, waiting to be released for Beyond Baroque along with rivers of honey.
The honey came from my hometown’s Poppy Festival. (Yes I live in a place that celebrates flowers.)  Along with jars of honey, I received my first Chick book. I’d never seen one of these mini gospels, until a representative of Lancaster Baptist Church handed me a copy while I was stuck in the line for a camel rides. The Chick title he handed me was, “This Was Your Life.” In this terrifying miniature comic book, a man is shown his entire life before being tossed into the Lake of Fire. (Scary.)
I fell in love with Chick reads. Fortunately, my friend who was at the festival with me, is obsessed with Chick lit. He showed me his collection of these religious handouts and a documentary about their origins. These strange little books both delight and offend everyone. They are too religious for the non-religious, too non-religious for the religious; they are also sexist, racist, and strange–yet oddly forgiving and compassionate. They are so very human.
I couldn’t help myself–I had to make one.
SO…all of this 2 am typing is to say, if you can make it to the Beyond Baroque reading I will give you honey and my own version of a Chick pamphlet. I will give you all my gold and human. I will dress like a hive. I will do all that I can to believe (and deliver) the magic of honey.
Please come.

Colliding Rhymes Reading: March 16th


This week has been devoted to prepping for the McGroarty Arts Center’s first annual arts festival! Part of the festivities will include “Colliding Rhythms” a poetry reading on Sunday March 16th at 3:30 p.m.


Please, please come. The McGroarty Art Center is something of a poetic wonderland. There will be drums and poems and drinks and trees and incredible light cascading off of mountains.

I didn’t know anything about this place until Joe DeCenzo extended an invitation to participate. I didn’t know Joe; I didn’t know McGroarty. I didn’t know that McGroarty was designated poet laureate of California by the State legislature in 1933. I didn’t know that before the World Wars Sunland was created as a sort of utopian escape from the city—a place for dreamers to bed roots and grow a new life outside of lung-crushing factories. Joe knows this; Joe DeCenzo works diligently to weave California poets into the tapestry of their western heritage.


This magical tree-house of a historic site is a home for the arts. It is well worth your time to be in this space; it truly is an inspirational place.

Inspiration is essential to any artist—any community. It is easy to get lost in the maze ofwhy poetry; inspiration is the thread that leads an artist safely out of the labyrinth.

I’ve been teaching the myth of the Minotaur—that animal that marks our genetics and our reckoning of with the self. It is ultimately a recognition of the other that leads us out from the dark passages—those spiraling corridors of doubt and fear. For this reading, I commissioned one of my students to create a costume. Her handy work is quiet fine; her spirit is nothing shy of lovely. She dreams of being a fashion designer—a maker. She doesn’t just dream; she does the work of the dream. She sews and sews and sews until her visions become tangible. With her help, I’ve been transforming into my own sense of other—my bull of reckoning.


Oh other—bull in the darkness—my strange bread—my sideshow. For this reading I hope to give everyone who attends a little show—a little three rings of self exploration.


I have to admit an obscene about of work goes into any artistic endeavor. Adding to the obscenity is the persistent uncertainty that comes with any creative work. I’ve been working on a character for this reading—a transformation that helps us all enter a creative space—a place of images.

Second Grade: Cell (aka Nicelle)
Second Grade: Cell (aka Nicelle)

As a child, I liked to play with image. I would often cut off all my hair; sometime assume a male name—desperately attempting to understand differences. I thought assuming the differences would help me be closer to others. I often find myself wishing I was more like my younger self; she really didn’t give a fuck what people thought. She was obsessed with how they felt—she wanted to feel as they did, no matter how different they were from her. There was some magic in that—I would like to get back to that magic. I’m going to try on March 16th; please come with me.



 with Tobi Harper, Molly Frances Wingland, Maureen Alsop, Alexis Vergalla, Lauren K Alleyne, Katie Manning and Cindy Rinne.
with Tobi Harper, Molly Frances Wingland, Maureen Alsop, Alexis Vergalla, Lauren K Alleyne, Katie Manning and Cindy Rinne.

AWP. AWP. What to say about AWP? It leaves us all spinning. If you haven’t left a piece of you sanity in the assigned city, you haven’t really been to AWP. This year I left crazy umbrellas wherever I could. In retrospect, I wished I had brought more umbrellas, more poetry. It is always an issue of more with AWP. 30 umbrellas are swallowed quickly by 10,000 writers. Being swallowed is a good way to describe AWP.

 photo 1

This year I convinced a few of my writing students (the very talented Trish Donahueto and Andrea Thamm) to attend. They fought with themselves over time and money spent—it’s just a conference, they objected when I described the whirl of energy, lack of sleep, and the effect that three miles of books has on a word lover. Eventually they resigned to go (maybe just to shush me up for a moment). I was delighted when we eventually crossed paths. They could no longer blink. You tried to tell us, they said. Yes, I can try but there is no way to describe what it is about this event that allows for—I am going to say it—transformation.

 photo 2-3 photo 3-1

The transformation is never expected; in fact the best way to attend AWP is with zero expectations. It is never the same; what you hate one year you may love the next. Some people walk away with the full recognition that life is larger than words. Some fade deeper into the folds of imagination. All is good, even if it feels like hell.

photo 2-4

In our own AWP troupe there was a trip to the E.R. due to exhaustion. I heard feet where broken on the giant escaladers and I witnessed several first time attendees break into spontaneous tears. Had I not been saved by Jason Cook and Maggie Hess (with their magical cup of coffee and hot crêpes) I may have entirely lost my mind in Seattle. I wish I was joking. No. This is no joke. This is AWP. But it’s not. Not really. I mean, it’s just a conference. Right?

 photo 3

Okay, it’s a conference. But I don’t know of any other conference where a person’s ethics, desires, and ideas (/ bodies) are pushed to a breaking point. If you’re lucky, this four day conference strips you to your most primal self. It gives you permission to be what you want—a writer. Even more profound, it reveals who you are—the reason you write. Such epiphanies are not easy to weather.

photo 2
I find it extremely important to keep your friends close when traveling in the storms of desire. I love my Red Hen Press / LAR Family. I love the Pie Bar and karaoke nights; I love feeling like a posse of book slingers. I am extremely proud of Kate Gale, whose new book The Goldilocks Zone launched at this year’s AWP.

photo 2-5

I was also proud of my URC family. My UCR sister Alexis Vergalla organized a reading on a glass bottom boat that included a city race. (What?) Yes. So good. photo 3-2In an ideal world, we would all return home with three solid days to dream away the after-blur of being with 10,000+ people. It isn’t the size of the event, nor the scope, it is the whirling descent of having to face off with what and who we are.


There is more to be said, shared, posted about all of this. Yes. I am hopeful that those of you who received umbrellas will send me photos of where the words traveled. I would love to mail umbrellas to those who wanted the extra shelter but couldn’t find it.

There is more out there…so much more. I am deeply grateful for this–this something more. Love, gratitude, and most importantly poetry to all.



Poetry Umbrellas: The Living Poetry Project will be giving away 30 umbrellas–150 poems by 100 different poets.


Please come find me and I’ll give you an umbrella.

AWP is busy; it is a mad whirl of books, ideas, and people. If you let it, it is can be rush of joy.  It is important to let it be joyful.

Because it is so busy, I made a little list of  places I’ll be; this way if you are looking for umbrellas, metaphor hands, or glitter, you’ll know where to look. I will be looking for you!

On Wednesday 5 umbrellas will be given out at the AROHO party.


On Thursday 5 Umbrellas will be given out at The Run of the Ancient Mariner off-sight Reading

I’m a happy to say that I will also have crowns, wigs, hats, glitter, glam, and metaphor hands to give out.


Please come and be fabulous with us on a glass bottom boat!


On Friday 5 umbrellas will be give out at Red Hen Press at Hugo House!


Most of my time will be at the Red Hen Booth. I have the honor of representing The LA Review.

I am also scheduled to have three book signings for Becoming Judas

I wanted to make these mini-poetry-parties. So please stop by to ask for umbrellas and:

Thursday 10:30-12:30

A photo op with Jesus and Judas! And to make an exquisite corps of me. Yippee!


Friday, 9:00-10:30 A.M.

This Octopus will swim out from under the table and sing to you. Octopus serenade!


Saturday, 10:30-11:30

The Beatles will kiss you! No really. Kiss. You.


In the Circus of You: Step Right Up


Illustrator Cheryl Gross musician Karl Preusser, and I have attempted to create a grotesque peep-show that opens the velvet curtains on what Mikhail Bakhtin refers to as the carnival. The carnival is the creation of a second world—a second life—a second self. In the Circus of You, chronicles a woman’s journey into her alternate reality. In the big-top-of-the-self, she faces her issues with sanity, motherhood, monogamy, divorce, creative / destructive impulses, appropriation, and ultimately beauty. The poems and images create a novel-in-verse where dead pigeons talk, conjoin twins copulate, clowns hide in the chambers of the heart, and the human body is turned inside out. In the Circus of You is coming to your town in 2015 thanks to Rose Metal Press.

I would be extremely grateful if you would consider watching and / or sharing our collaborative poetry film for In the Circus of You.


Here is the YouTube link to the film:


Umbrella Poems: AWP 2014

photo 4

I’ve begun to turn umbrellas into poems.

AWP this year will be in Seattle. People will need coverings. Lets cover them in poems, yes? Please send me your poems and I will paint them onto umbrellas to give away at this years AWP.  I’m hopeful to bring a suitcase full of shelter to AWP.

Please send your poems to by February 25th, 2014. I will give your poems out here:

2014 AWP Conference & Bookfair

Washington State Convention Center &
Sheraton Seattle Hotel
February 26 – March 1, 2014

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