Poem: animal instincts

This piece was an honorable mention for the 2020 American Academy of Poets Prize at Duke University.

like a newborn foal—
bowlegged, pigeon-toed,
drawn in swift slips to the clover-cover
of the soft green ground

more joint than not, legs buckle
knees, knuckle, tiptoe
arch-fallen, spur-ridden,
hoof-cloven, hollow

graceless in shape, sinew,
slow-stumbling raceless
wide-eyed, wet-maned,
            still slick with womb-water,
            walking in heaves and shudders
            till the earth pushes,
                        sky pulls,
                        and—lighter than light—
                        canters forth

LASERBEAM
coy, a real wallflower at first,
then dashing across the floor
where we scramble-scuttle,
paws straining, claws out,
scratching wood-floor-empty-nothing

                                                and just when we’ve forgotten,

                                                                                    LASERBEAM
                                                                                    smirking out of reach
                                                                                    silent siren-song pulsing
                                                                                    ears unwaxed, teeth bared
                                                                                    we dive and scratch and stretch
                                                                                    and come up emptyhanded, bloody,
                                                                                    betrayed
                                                                                                and when we think we’ve learned—

LASERBEAM
caught,            (we are hunters born)  but immaterial,
            ethereal,
            ghostthin—

                                                we don’t notice when it’s gone

honeysuckle    evening
when the moon can’t              see us

hiding between the breaths     of flowers
sunsigh still                 over land
we don’t pierce the silence     it would bleed

even the crickets are muted in wonder

the water falls             upwards
            the frost     unfurls
                        we hold time hostage
            it surrenders

(katydids startle
fireflies fade

and we among them flash,      then falter)

later, when we have loosed our grip
it slips away from us

like a crow released from a ship’s bow—
landbound, seeking terrain,
            fleeing the throttlebend of albatross
            circling the stern like carrion,
            beelining for the horizon

(pyrite sunglint over wave-dapple)
drawn ever forwards by
            the kiss of distant shores
            and the promise of renaissance

                        the opposite of olive-branch
                        caged by scurvy sailors
                        until the stars scramble

            and instinct alone can guide us