The Animal with Irony
I agreed to hold the snake just long enough
for my brother to wrestle the cage door open.
The cat who tapped my cheek clawlessly
was the one who brought to the back stoop
the most carnage: star-nosed mole, cartoon
chipmunk, pumping-chested finch. I confess
to a shiny alligator purse, my fingers pressing
and yanking the ridged forehead to snap and
unsnap the snapper. In Brazil, a grisly still life
under flat sun: one eight-inch severed turtle leg,
one trembling flour sack tied tight, and José,
scared and purple with rage, bellowing at five
rag-tag kids, bloody knives in their fists and
hungry. When an elephant hurls her dung,
it’s time to handcuff the keeper. I don’t know
what we are, but the earwig—oh lowly earwig—
lower than buck-toothed rodent, translucent
crustacean, eczema of reptile—she assures me
that hell is surely not clean and alive like fire.
Bless the horse, ducking her head into the bridle.
Bless her neighborly whinny as I crest the drive.
Though it has cost me five cats and many chickens,
I live rural to be near wild. Chuff of bear. Coyotes’
nightly tune-ups thrill, swooningly jagged: perverse
reassurance I’m glad for. The hawk’s Thanksgiving
arc-swoop, his talons’ cursive, writ on our tiniest pullet,
spoke a savage grace. Infant scream of fisher, knock-
rattle in the night basement—these jitter me alert,
alarmed, which I take as a gift, since fear conquered
equals pride—but is there anything more suspect?
Less animal? We name and eat and love and loathe
them. On account of flowers, I no longer allow
groundhogs their cuteness, vote instead for Chuck’s
gun. How tenderly I jar crickets and bumblebees,
deliver them to their lives outside, yet whack moths
and silverfish with gusto, trap mice, lay poison for ants,
flush ladybugs down the toilet. Once I ordered
thousands to sprinkle about the garden, now
I celebrate as their masses dwindle and disappear
from ceilings and screens, returning me my kindness.
The Field Wants Its Sheep Back
Of course that’s me talking, but why wouldn’t
it want a tickle of hooves, a warming of shit,
less empty? Sheep with their panoramic vision
are stressed by isolation, and sometimes
given mirrors, which comfort. Alone
can be expansive—balm or terror. Cold
is plural, swoops-seeps into the crowd
of everything else that is. (The Victorians
spent fully half their time trying to get
warm. Nowadays, only the poor, the jailed.)
Granted the lux of hearth or heat, frigid
is simply a slap, a tightening, survivable.
Cold is no shroud, but a re-awakening,
the way the death of a friend of a friend
enlivens after it saddens. Come no closer
says my every watery cell. Cost costs.
Still-greenish tufts offer themselves up
all the way to the tree-line. Despite
summer’s sheep, they slowly whiten.
Let me spend wisely what I have,
which is only my breath—thin, visible
body-heat. I am but a small animal.
Ellen Doré Watson’s most recent book is Dogged Hearts (Tupelo Press, 2010). Her next, pray me stay eager, will be published by Alice James Books in 2018. Watson’s work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, and The New Yorker. Among her honors are a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and to Yaddo, and a NEA Translation Fellowship. She has translated a dozen books from the Brazilian Portuguese, including the work of poet Adélia Prado. Watson serves as poetry editor of The Massachusetts Review, director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, and teaches in the Drew University Low-Residency MFA program in poetry and translation.