Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
 print version

The True Book of Animal Homes

And in the dark patches they root

a shape to settle        they flatten

the grass,

                        nettle & flashweed


to nibble on                    shot up &


tumbled at the brink of a ditch,

a treeline.


& in the dark they root their way to sleep

   flattening in the quick of it

                       the night just going on going on


If they are alone they huddle for warmth

scrub denned, lichen snouted

If they are not alone they huddle for warmth

furred & furrowed,

                       trundle of heartbeats

                       muzzled in the leaf pile




Some of them are hide–in–plain–sights
Some of them are stays–in–cages
Some of them are fleet in passage
Some are sprung and roam the grounds




Some are flat raced twelve

furlongs on turf tracks,

their muscles perfect

fractions of slow

twitch fast twitch,                     spurs


hooking rib swale pressed

toward the purse that flask

shaped man will cash

for a yacht when the horse

stops running


her slow trot warmdown

on remodeled





Some are ridden on trails tamped     through the outfield

of Prescott, Arizona, all the way

to pasture in the growing taller & taller weeds

until their coats           thin to chaff.

Threshing wind.




Some are innumerable

Some are stacked in cages in a shed
on the west side of Baltimore or

a dark barn in Lancaster, PA
on a grip of flaxen hayfield

& here comes the Amish boy
   who flings Alpo mashed with chicken
   feed through the mesh wire

& the blackness goes leaking out

& all the small questions getting softer


Some scurry for years

Some are sold by the road like jam like chairs like bonnets


What’s invisible

the cages or the sheds or the barns,
how their callused bellies drag

whelp-heavy & freckled




Some are prizes

Some are hunted & crumpled

one by one in the marsh
in the backcountry
in the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie
their skin thrown down
on the table & zipped up
into the shape of the myth
of the victory to
hang on a wall
hang in a room

             : an arrangement
enough :

             the best representation
             of the best representation

of an elk
of an owl
of a wolf




Some of them are embalmed ones

Some of them are time that does
not measure itself

Some are drawn with a very fine camelhair brush




Some are muscular with the fastest joy

Some are lost

Some are feasting on mulberries behind the heat pump

Some are those who are too many
            whose ancient hearts are measured against their
                        turning-white fur

& every seven days the woman
   whose job it is draws
   each from his kennel
   to the end of the hall
   to the cold steel table
& touches his nose his
   head the twitching flags
   of his ears & pinches
   the syringe into his
& waits
& waits
& strokes his soft soft fur
   until he falls away, into


What does or doesn’t come next

                                                                :  infinite meadow of remarkable smells
                                                                   & grazing the tall fescue in the sun
                                                                   & black bees sleeping in the red clover
                                                                   & the sunlight deep then deeper the
                                                                   crepe myrtle in bloom & somewhere
                                                                   the door to a house opens




Some are ones given less time

Some are ones that humans fail

Some are a procession of clouds

Some root for crickets & moths, sharp little
beaks scraping dirt from dirt




& some with a field to stand in




Some are those slumped & tethered out back of the market
that’s a front for some other kind of market
at the corner of 24th & M.

Some are those sprawled in the dead grass on the hottest weekend
of the heat advisory summer,
no bucket of water to cool their parched

& panting no slip of shade


The one between the garbage &

the fence charges hard at whatever

rattles the chain link

& the man who runs the corner

keeps watch from upstairs

backdoor propped open with a brick.




Some are those that belong to the Emperor

Some are those that are trained

Some are those that, from a long way off, look like flies




Here they come, sifted from the dark woods, prowling & shifty.

Here they come, the mongrel ghosts of my heart.

Here they come, in folds coaxed &.

Here they come, halting—half-wild, rawboned, keen—




Some graze on lupine that clutch

the glaciers

& wander acres of dust

& cotton grass,            the wind

a grip a bluster at the scruff of their necks

as they sniff & keep nosing through crowberry:


Those who tiptoe the rocks

                       & tromp the sedges

who snack on clover in the bright

of March,

Little fleece machines, little woolmakers

who clutter through the fog
who gallop across the lava fields

Those who must come in from the field now,

                       those who must return to the fold now,

those who must be shorn:




Some are those branded with the wound of steadfast longing toward

Some are suckling pigs

Some are gathered, hauled & penned

stampede of pink snouts stampede of dirty feathers

docked & unloaded & crammed

into dead space:        such various prying &

no inch to scamper

            & nothing good remains intact:
            beak or tail
            or plumage or hoof.




Some are those that pace in terror

Some are those that cower in shame

Some are those that tremble as if they were mad

Some are those included in this classification




Some are those that look like they’ve just broken a flower vase.

Some are those who rove & stomp

                                                hoof by hoof

a lapsing trot,  a lumbering

those big moony eyes

filling up the whole pasture,



                                                they take you in.




Some rabbit in the gulches

                        & burrow by firstlight

or roost in the shallows

roost in the needle-&-thread of their apple bed warbling,



Oh littles

            full of scaffold &



They come to find us

                                  : they come to body us home  


This poem uses parts of Jorge Borges’ “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’s
Taxonomy” as a framework throughout.

“the blackness goes leaking out” is Anne Carson’s, from Men in the Off Hours.

“the best representation/of the best representation” is taken from Dave Madden’s
The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy

“time that does not measure itself” is taken from Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva.

“procession of clouds” borrows phrasing from Arecelis Girmay’s poem, “Small Letter.”

“wound of steadfast longing” comes from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

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