the beginning of the end of the world

cockroach population possibly declining 


maybe the morning the roaches 

walked into the kitchen 

bold with they bad selves 

marching up out of the drains 

not like soldiers      like priests 

grim and patient in the sink 

and when we ran the water 

trying to drown them as if they were 

soldiers      they seemed to bow their 

sad heads      for us not at us 

and march single file away 

maybe then      the morning we rose 

from our beds as always 

listening for the bang of the end 

of the world      maybe then 

when we heard only the tiny tapping 

and saw them dark and prayerful 

in the kitchen      maybe then 

when we watched them turn from us 

faithless at last 

and walk in a long line away

by Lucille Clifton, included in Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

Wildlife Management 1

All the trees kept their own counsel without any wind to speak of,
until one lone limber pine began gesticulating wildly, as if it
suffered from its own inner cyclone.
It was like a lunatic in the
courtroom of other trees.
We forgot about the sunset and the dark
coming on across the plain.
Then the reason appeared: a mother
antelope had twin newborns backed into the tree and fended off a
pair of coyotes who darted in and feinted out, knowing she
couldn’t defend them both.
The girl I was with shrieked, ‘Do
I thought of the rifle back at the house.
I thought of a
litter of coyote whelps in a den somewhere nearby.
I thought of the
three-hundred-yard sprint to the tree.
The mother antelope would
be first to bolt, and those coyotes would have the aplomb to make
off with both twins.
I said no.
The antelope struck out with her
forelegs, she butted the coyotes back, until one of them got the
chance they had orchestrated and caught a twin and trotted off,
dangling it by the nape as gently as if it were her own.

by James Galvin, from Everything We Always Knew Was True (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)

Behaving Like a Jew

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking out of the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
—I am going to be unappeased at the opossum’s death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevies passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

by Gerald Stern, originally in Lucky Life (1977)

To the Unseeable Animal

My Daughter: “I hope there’s an animal
somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
And I hope nobody ever sees it.”

Being, whose flesh dissolves
at our glance, knower
of the secret sums and measures,
you are always here,
dwelling in the oldest sycamores,
visiting the faithful springs
when they are dark and the foxes
have crept to their edges.
I have come upon pools
in streams, places overgrown
with the woods’ shadow,
where I knew you had rested,
watching the little fish
hang still in the flow;
as I approached they seemed
particles of your clear mind
disappearing among the rocks.
I have walked deep in the woods
in the early morning, sure
that while I slept
your gaze passed over me.
That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope. The darkness
keeps us near you.

– Wendell Berry, in Art and Nature, an Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

The Cows On Killing Day

by Les Murray

All me are standing on feed. The sky is shining.

All me have just been milked. Teats all tingling still
from that dry toothless sucking by the chilly mouths
that gasp loudly in in in, and never breathe out.

All me standing on feed, move the feed inside me.
One me smells of needing the bull, that heavy urgent me,
the back-climber, who leaves me humped, straining, but light
and peaceful again, with crystalline moving inside me.

Standing on wet rock, being milked, assuages the calf-sorrow in me.
Now the me who needs mounts on me, hopping, to signal the bull.

The tractor comes trotting in its grumble; the heifer human
bounces on top of it, and cud comes with the tractor,
big rolls of tight dry feed: lucerne, clovers, buttercup, grass,
that’s been bitten but never swallowed, yet is cud.
She walks up over the tractor and down it comes, roll on roll
and all me following, eating it, and dropping the good pats.

The heifer human smells of needing the bull human
and is angry. All me look nervously at her
as she chases the dog me dream of horning dead: our enemy
of the light loose tongue. Me’d jam him in his squeals.

Me, facing every way, spreading out over feed.

One me is still in the yard, the place skinned of feed.
Me, old and sore-boned, little milk in that me now,
licks at the wood. The oldest bull human is coming.

Me in the peed yard. A stick goes out from the human
and cracks, like the whip. Me shivers and falls down
with the terrible, the blood of me, coming out behind an ear.
Me, that other me, down and dreaming in the bare yard.

All me come running. It’s like the Hot Part of the sky
that’s hard to look at, this that now happens behind wood
in the raw yard. A shining leaf, like off the bitter gum tree
is with the human. It works in the neck of me
and the terrible floods out, swamped and frothy. All me make the Roar,
some leaping stiff-kneed, trying to horn that worst horror.
The wolf-at-the-calves is the bull human. Horn the bull human!

But the dog and the heifer human drive away all me.

Looking back, the glistening leaf is still moving.
All of dry old me is crumpled, like the hills of feed,
and a slick me like a huge calf is coming out of me.

The carrion-stinking dog, who is calf of human and wolf,
is chasing and eating little blood things the humans scatter,
and all me run away, over smells, toward the sky.

The Oldest Animal Writes a Letter Home

by Sabrina Orah Mark

To That Mutter and That Fodder:

You never sended byrds unless nuffing is the byrds you sended which was not the byrds I meant.  Even if The One wif the Tooths who is alpso called The CollekTorah brings them in The Jar.  Those is not the byrds I meant.   Or if I was fastly awake under the grandfodder tree when One Turrible Water falled from the wooly Skyys.  Those is not the byrds I meant.  And neever is the parsnips, although One of the parsnip has a littlest feather on the tops of its heads.  That parsnip is maded out of Magiks I obey.  I thinks I loveth that parsnip, but nones of it is those byrds I meant.  At last I invented some idears if That Mutter and That Fodder is wonderling how:  CollekT the byrds auf the roof and outs of the attic and swore to thems out lord that thy Oldest Animal shall be thy Witness Forevermores and At Last.  And if it is scayred said Onto That Byrd “The Oldest Animal is scayred too.”  And if it shaketh in thy Flaysh said Onto That Byrd “The Oldest Animal shaketh in thy Flaysh too.”  And if it is a lostling if that soarless parsnip will never loveth back said Onto That Byrd “The Oldest Animal is a lostling too.”

I maded myselfs a prayer against forgetting me.   I rasp it out lord wif one hoofs in the ayr, and one hoofs on my hearts.  It says its wyrds like this:  Something Beautiful Is Going to Happen, Something Beautiful Is Going to Happen, Something Beautiful Is Going to Happen.


The Oldest Animal (sighted in contents)

Coon Song

by A.R. Ammons

I got one good look
in the raccoon’s eyes
when he fell from the tree
came to his feet
and perfectly still
seized the baying hounds
in his dull fierce stare,
in that recognition all
decision lost,
choice irrelevant, before the
battle fell
and the unwinding
of his little knot of time began:

Dostoevsky would think
it important if the coon
could choose to
be back up the tree:
or if he could choose to be
wagging by a swamp pond
dabbling at scuttling
crawdads: the coon may have
dreamed in fact of curling
into the holed-out gall
of a fallen oak some squirrel
had once brought
high into the air
clean leaves to: but
reality can go to hell
is what the coon’s eyes said to me:
and said how simple
the solution to my
problem is: it needs only
not to be: I thought the raccoon
felt no anger,
saw none; cared nothing for cowardice,
bravery; was in fact
bored at
knowing what would ensue:
the unwinding, the whirling growls,
exposed tenders,
the wet teeth–a problem to be
solved, the taut-coiled vigor
of the hunt
ready to snap loose:
you want to know what happened,
you want to hear me describe it,
to placate the hound’s-mouth
slobbering in your own heart:
I will not tell you: actually the coon
possessing secret knowledge
pawed dust on the dogs
and they disappeared, yapping into
nothingness, and the coon went
down to the pond
and washed his face and hands and beheld
the world: maybe he didn’t:
I am no slave that I
should entertain you, say what you want
to hear, let you wallow in
your silt: one two three four five:
one two three four five six seven eight
nine ten:
all this time I’ve been
counting spaces
while you were thinking of something else)
mess in your own sloppy silt:
the hounds disappeared
yelping (the way you would at extinction)
into–the order
breaks up here–immortality:
I know that’s where you think the brave
little victims should go:
I do not care what
you think: I do not care what you think:
I do not care what you
think: one two three four five
six seven eight nine ten: here we go
round the here-we-go-round, the here-we-
go-round, the here-we-go-round: coon will end in disorder at the
teeth of hounds: the situation
will get him:
spheres roll, cubes stay put: now there
one two three four five
are two philosophies
here we go round the mouth-wet of
what I choose
is youse:

To Waste My Hands

by Aracelis Girmay

Three years ago, I stood on the dock near my father’s house
while the small shark suffocated & was killed.

He was like an angel culled up from the purple sea.
& the air smashed into him like an anvil

& his muscles sank desperately into the ribs. Terrible

terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible
to watch him that way. More terrible to waste my hands, just


A Doe Replaces Iphigenia on the Sacrificial Altar

By Robyn Schiff

There was a need
to be weak and I met
it. I appeared in the confusion
between strength and
surrender, as if out of nowhere,
that’s the illusion.
I was reared
in a thicket of
sorrow with a beautiful
string of drool
hanging out the side of my
mouth like a loose
How will I know
what to do, I wondered.
No one does, my mother said.
And then, as the drawing back of the ocean
before a tsunami
suddenly exposes
outrageous fish on the seabed, gasping,
a great inhalation placed me
here panting on the sacred grass.
I feel like a girl in heaven,
but I am a beast in a clearing.
I came to
as the wind picked up
and in the bay
as the tide
came in,
what a blow to mankind,
an animalcrude wind
to war, toward
war, untoward
toward war
took my breath
away with it.


by Abraham Smith

1800’s  north wisconsin   leave it to me
to work ollie fink into the leaven   he was
an ass   had eyes like blood-fat
wood ticks wrestled from the worst dog
old snuff smeared for a beard   and a stench like trash

very famous for killing wolves

killed them clean from two counties   both rusk and taylor
a lot of feed sack tied off puppy howling   that’s saying something
he poisoned them   he kept the powder at home   he was a

bachelor so there was nothing stopping him

he shook bear flesh full of poison and he laid in the bushes
during the interminable coughing and he
dragged them warm
back home at dark
with the northern lights never crass on high
and there it was he tied
eight ten beautiful wolves in the glory of middle life
by their necks by the light of the moon
up to wire

little pistol shit of a cuss of a man
leaning on his shit shack
next to ten beautiful songwriters
all by the throats

promise you if I had been the moon
snapping milk bleach pictures   I would’ve
I wood haft said oll old pal I’d like to take a second
one of you with my rifle and lowering
my rifle into one crater or other and cocking it touched
the trigger to gravity bang   made his bangs gravy
I would have leveled him bang fuck the stories
of old world wolves stealing babies that’s bull and

ollie was too   the old creek low and testy
the new dawn cool   sky worn and wormy
awfully stinky lumbermen   fat wrists swinging
norwegian ditties winging   fat wrist lard asses leveling the

white pines out of there

he clouded hearing them sawyers singing
not soothing for they grated on the ache he already had he felt
pain this is ollie follow me here   ollie in piebald britches
piebald with bear greases   suspenders built of wolf tongues
stripped stamped knocked the fool howl out of them   getting
harder to keep his oily self up he slept in suspenders   witch wart
wolf plums   he tried to rest strapped into calcified moon rungs

his tooth hurt good   so reached
for pain kill powder   took instead


he took the wolf poison into his hands   a pair of
rough and ready hands in the wolf urine light of
halfdawn with norwegian lard asses already singing

his two bulky never pray snakehead hands that shined a little
like something fresh varnished or yanked from water or pried from
birthing matter

ollie drank the shit down with a draw of rusty creek water in the half life of
dawn with lumberjacks singing now plaintive now joyful birds writing one
sun like a drunk on a stump with nothing but unkindness left to churn

old oll performed a little work   I think he pulled a weed out from

the ground   he   ollie fink   solo lobo killer    took it in his head to lay down

tried to   then   fell by

his plank board bed they found him cold and down

old tough ass fink

some there were who claimed it was his buttons they were
always poison spiders   somewhere a lone baby
wolf applauds gangbusters performs a lewd jig in the dust ollie
used to spit
only things asked us

that we don’t mind the descent   and lengthen the harness some