Four Poems by Anne Haven McDonnell

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The Swimmers

After all the wolves on the island were killed by cyanide, traps, and bullets, decades later, wolves from the mainland swam for miles to repopulate the island.

By dream, by twitch, by lope, by gazing from the shore, by howls that gather, by circle and
whine, by hint, rumor and surge, by yearn, nip, and bark, by stretch, itch, and shake,
by splash, dunk, and swim by starlight, by bull kelp and driftwood, by calm
and gelatinous sea, by stink of whale, by salt of far, by winter fur, by paws
as paddles, by chuff and nostril huff, by steam of breath above the sea,
by belly of salmon, by hunger for deer, by memory in blood,
by roam for love, by milk and teat, by marrow and fat,
by muscle, skull and golden eyes, by magnetic pull,
by currents and tides, by miles, by sinking
cold, with no one watching
by sea by sea by sea.



The Study

There is the silence of an August
afternoon, the lake gun-bright

and still. The silence of the oysterman’s
laundry: white socks, a blue shirt
strung across two fence posts.
Empty oyster shells
piled on the beach.

There is the silence of a trap, metal
teeth sprung and bit,

the silence after the rifle has fired,
its black eye pointed
at the ground.

There is the silence draining
from the wolf’s eyes, the blood
bubbling from the hole like
a spring.

Between the farmer’s house
and the flute player’s house
a wolf pisses along
the property line.

There is the silence of a fawn,
whole and wet and speckled
as a fish, slicking the moss
with afterbirth.

The brittle silence of the road sign,
Wolf Creek, pointing to a creek
with no wolves.

The yawning silence of snow
covering the beach without tracks.

After the bounties, the insects
trained the silence, clicking
their laws, the forest thinking,
trying to remember its name.



How to Sit with a Wolf

If you are peeling chestnuts
      on the rocks above Frank’s beach.
If the basket in your lap
      balances the day’s
grey light, corrals
      the sky between polished stone.

If days of rain
      and more rain
have pushed newts to their slow,
      blood-chilled crawl
on the road. If yesterday
      you carried each one
across in its open-toed
      freeze, orange belly above
your open palm.

If the sea gentles here
      between islands, your fingers
work back bits of leathery skin,
      the nuts fuzzed and naked
in a blue bowl.

If you keep your eyes down—
the song you sing
in your off-key quiver, the words
lift and drop and lift

until the young wolf you caught
      sleeping on sand takes
you in and takes you
      for this place
you are trying
      to belong to—



The Lost Girl

This is what happened: Kaya wandered down beach, past the nettle patch, past the old fish trap, halfway down to oyster spit. At five-years old, she wobbled in her wander. While her family was unloading their boat, she kept wandering. Low tide, wet sand, beneath her feet, clams sealed their lips and dove deeper. Beneath her feet, purple sand dollars brushed the shallow currents with their spines. Above her head, eagles perched on hemlock tops. She must have gotten tired. She may have sung to herself as she walked. She may have sung to the crabs that scuttled from her fingers. She was not afraid. She must have looked for a dry soft place to lie down. Between two cedar trees on a bank above the beach. Sleeping there when her mother found her. A big dog came to sit with me, she later would say. The wolf’s back haunches touched the girl’s elbow where she lay sleeping. Just watching over her, her mother said. That’s how they found her. This is what happened.




Anne Haven McDonnell

Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she teaches English and creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. In summers, she migrates to the waters and trees of the Northwest, and to an island in British Columbia where she conducted research and interviews that inspired these poems. Her poems won the fifth annual Terrain.org Poetry Prize and second place for the international Gingko Prize for Ecopoetry. These poems are from her chapbook, Living With Wolves, published by Split Rock Press in October 2020.

Read Anne Have McDonnell’s Letter to America poem plus four poems, two poems, and the two poems that won Terrain.org’s 5th Annual Poetry Contest.

Header photo by Dvorakova Veronika, courtesy Shutterstock.

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Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.