ROCKINGHAM — From the jungles of Vietnam to cycling across the Carolinas, veteran Michael Davis has condensed some of his experiences into the written word.
Davis, a South Carolina native now living in Stanly County, recently published his first book, “Nam to Now,” featuring a collection of poems he’s scribbled down over the years.
His first two writings were inspired after losing each of his parents. The one about his mother is included in the book.
Davis was born in Sumter, South Carolina, but the family moved to Murrells Inlet not long after.
When he was 18, Davis said he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps toward the end of 1967 and was sent to Vietnam the next year, following the Tet Offensive, stationed at the demilitarized zone in the northern part of the country..
Included in the book is a short story about his bout with malaria.
But after his time in war, Davis says he was unfit for stateside service, much less civilian life.
“I had a very difficult time assimilating,” Davis said. “I just didn’t fit in. I was having a hard time with reality.”
“I was a mess,” Davis recalled about his return to the states; a bit of a drifter, as he “leapfrogged from town to town” hitchhiking and hopping trains across the country.
But then, something changed.
“I saw a guy come through our town with a bicycle — with the funny hat, the funny clothes — and I immediately got it right then,” Davis recalled. Cycling, he said,“That’s what really saved my life.”
“It’s almost killed me too,” he added, noting that he’s been hit by vehicles five times, as recently as last October.
The exercise helped him to sleep, which is something he’s struggled with since the last wreck.
Davis worked at several bike shops in South Carolina, including one building frames for single and tandem bicycles, and eventually was loaned money to open his own shop in Asheville.
In addition to working on bikes, Davis also participated in rides, including taking part in 40 consecutive runs of the Assault on Mount Mitchell, a 100-plus mile pedal from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
“That’s my only claim to fame,” he joked.
Cycling, Davis said, “has been my identity.”
“It’s taken me to France and Canada. I’ve put in … at least half a million miles on the road.”
Some of his poems recall his military service and others reflect the cycling world, including several that pay tribute to past cyclists like Major Taylor and Tom Simpson.
Although he found joy in cycling, Davis said the rides — much like war — can be “a lonely affair,” which is reflected in his book.
“Life is a bunch of hardships … and loneliness,” he said. “…being able to write about it, it makes laughter more genuine. I think when you can laugh, eventually it will make love more genuine too.”
Some of the poems take a serious tone, while others are more light-hearted and humorous.
“There’s a lot of insightful things (like listening to banana trees grow) that I think my book and poems bring out,” he said.
Aside from the topics the poems cover, Davis also employs a lot of puns and word play, including one titled “Armageddon Out of Here.” He says he “fell in love with words” by completing crossword puzzles — often having to “cheat.”
“I want to inspire kids to play with words, write poetry … read this and find out what I’m talking about,” he said. “If there’s something that you don’t understand, then you’ve got these magical devices, these phones and computers … and you can look up so much information…”
Davis says he has at least two more books he plans to release. The title of the next one, “They Shoot Bicycles, Don’t They,” is an homage to the late humor columnist Patrick McManus.
Davis’ book is available on Amazon.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Davis lives in Stanly County, not Richmond County, but is deacon of a church in Richmond. 12:00 p.m. 6-1-23