Chickens

 
Cooped overnight in scrap wood and wire, combs tipped frostbite-black, my hens
Hop happy into the crystal sun of minus 10. My Maran, my Star, my Rhode
Island Red, you are a fad, an experiment, a backyard flock. Time for cabbage,
Cracked corn, time to peck and slurp the winter-worm spaghetti. Could I
Kill you? The cold can’t. Are you livestock or pet? You sleep with one
Eye open, bathe in ashes, lay double yolks. In summer, the yard is yours. My
Namesakes, you are not chicken. Door open, you enter the kitchen—no threshold
Stops you. My atavists, my tiny dinosaurs, my fearless feathered tyrants.

 

 

 

Lobster

 
Like us, the female lobster undresses before sex. She removes her skeleton. The
Old shell that held her splits, and she’s more than naked: new, virgin again, her
Body softer, more exposed than we’ll ever be. But like us, not quite innocent.
Since innocence has no armor, we outlast it, know our own only after it’s lost—
Though not by fragility but endurance, each body eventually shocks. The first and
Every time, the lover steps out of one vessel to reveal another—ghost shape,
Ragged carapace we embrace in spite of, or because of, our fear.

 

 

 

Narwhal

 
Never captive, never fully known. Or rather, captive only as the corpse you’re named for.
Arctic unicorn—your horn an algae-covered ivory spiral, inverted tooth. You
Recognize yourself in mirrors, the article says, but what mirror have you seen besides
Water, your reflection warped and wavering? To know the self, we need only see what we want,
How desperately we pursue it: Ahab’s whale, Narcissus’ fragile image. So many theories
About what your tusk is for, and still our best, most human guess is just display—a peacock’s fan,
Lion’s mane—your nature bound, by us, to us, and for us, by the depth where sunlight fades.

 

 

 

Raccoon

 
Rabid. Or not. In the snow, in dumpsters, in the animal night, you have
A reputation. But who doesn’t wear a mask? On video, you dip
Cotton candy—it dissolves in your hands. I mean paws. I mean hands. Your
Cuteness antithesis in one so wild, so acute. Of course you’re
On guard—you can hear earthworms move in the dirt. But
Oh, I want to touch you, and maybe you want me to, though you are
Not like me, not like me, not like me.

 

 

 

Turtle

 
Take a box turtle away from its home, and it will search the composted leaf-litter
Under hardwoods, the mosses and earthworms, until it starves. Not rational, this
Refusal among plenty, this resistance to transplant, but familiar. I might’ve killed a
Turtle, as a child. Solitary, unable to say where it belonged, it must’ve been
Like me, I thought—unattached, belonging nowhere. The southern red oak,
Even now, reaches out, narrow leaves pale and lobed, upturned like alien hands.

 

 

 

Urchin

 
Unbrained but not unsexed. The urchin’s teeth can grind through rock—his ball and socket spines
Rotate like hips and shoulders. Watch where you step. Despite his name, he’s no hedgehog, no
Cute elf or wild-haired Dickensian waif. Close, though, to Cupid, with arrows and no conscience.
He’ll sting, but wait—as fossil, he’s apotropaic, an amulet smooth as a wasp gall, an egg. Pain
Inoculates until its needles finally invert. Your bloom sharpens while his thunder petrifies.
Newly spined, immune, you wear his remnant as admonition—no bolt will ever strike you so again.

 

 

 

Henrietta GoodmanHenrietta Goodman is the author of three books of poetry: All That Held Us, a sonnet-sequence published by BkMk Press in 2018 as winner of the John Ciardi Prize; Hungry Moon, published by University Press of Colorado in 2013; and Take What You Want, which won the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books in 2006. Her poems in this issue are part of a collaboration with the poet Ryan Scariano consisting of dual-alphabets of acrostic poems contemplating intersections of the human and non-human animal worlds. She teaches at the University of Montana and at Texas Tech University and lives in Missoula, Montana.
 
 

Header photo by anne sch, courtesy Pexels.com.

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2 Responses

  1. kj miller

    love the way the form disappears, the focus and detail, the humor, lovely all around.

    Reply
  2. Dennis Held

    These poems are so full of twisty, inward-turning observations and connections that the first thing I feel is simple delight–“Since innocence has no armor, we outlast it, know our own only after it’s lost.” Did not feel that one coming. Or many of thoughtful, surprising responses to the natural world these poems evoke. (The dizzy, interline looping lyricism is fun in the mouth, too.) What could have been a mere acrostic trick has been turned into a charming waltz back and forth between the animal muses and the intuitive and capacious Ms. Goodman. Bravo.

    Reply

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