Beast-Lover Variations


Always watering burdock and thistle,
bundling butter-and-eggs bouquets,

I missed the immaculate
angle of his approach. A cleverer girl

would have stayed home, tended to what
encroached, but his turning

unlatched me. I followed,
browsing on buffalo, goose and bearberries,

plucked pears from a vine. He touched
none, thorns never took to his thighs,

and we differed in other strains
I began to forget. I've filled rivers

with salmon, he said, tapped sweet
cactus juice, I have some tricks

to teach you—one with a hare, one with a vole,
one with a waning moon.
My basket

thumping muzzle, dewclaw like a hunted
pulse against my hip, I was lapsing

into love. As many doorways
loomed as aspen pairs and I recalled

that I was not brave, not ever, and stopped
to sleep. My paths were meant to purl

gently downhill, spider webs brocade the brush,
fate be tractable. A cleverer girl


would not have placed an even
number of huckleberries in every cobbler,

nor upended equal parts of nettles
and sage above her bed. But

I was wising up, and waking
by a stream I could name, I did not try to pick

my way home. I swam, my gullet
ice-plugged in the instant. Having pinned

aprons to a winter line, strung
barbed-wire fence, palmed the paw-sized

disc of snow inside a lynx track, I had mastered
cold work; I thought I could leave

anyone. Underwater was otherwise—
a granite thicket and billowing silt,

caddisfly cases and cut-banks,
a numbness that may have been him

coursing over me. No matter
how dearly I willed my floodgates

shut, I took on water like a buckshot
dory, a hungry bucket, a jam jar waiting

for weed blooms in a waiting house
like mine—I could only tumble

downstream with him who fed me
dozens of wings. A cleverer girl


would not have mooned over
so many fine-lined maps, nor relished the heft

of atlases—knowing the planned-for lists
toward rupture before rapture,

she would have foreseen remorse
even in a town called Fishtail.

In the elephant-head meadow, I still
had my basket, brimming now with the most

bulbous of black ants, flax-pods and fat
crackling grasshoppers. My feeder's figure

turned black-and-white-winged
cartwheels and oh was I weary of change—

saying magpie, I said as much, inviting
him home. If I coveted age, I coveted a body

mooring mine to whichever eave
was ours—who he would be then

fretted me less than dwelling there. As far
as the cleverer girl, I ditched her, but saying

I was wary no longer would make
me a liar. An odd-berried cobbler

in the oven, I waited for faucets to spout
gravel, walls to fall and my traveled

basket to unravel as we sat together
astounding the eyes of my maple table.