a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section 1: Landscapes

Anne Haven McDonnell


Petrichor, Cedar Mesa

Here, where water seeps
in moss-green cracks, or hides

in leathery leaves of four-winged
saltbush, blackbush, bitterbush, or

pools in deep sleeping cells
inside a buried red-spotted toad. Here,

where I slept, my back on slabs
of sandstone, sky thrashed with stars,

wheeling above the long curved stone
horizon of comb ridge, under

which, the river dreams the rain
as it licks walls of rock and sinks

into roots of sandbar willow
and cottonwoods rustle and beg

to tip this heavy air which fills with
what peaks gather and pull down

and this desert opens all its mouths,
each cell releasing scent

drenched in what we want
to call rain before it falls or

what I want to call love when
I hear my breath as it moves

between canyon walls or my foot-
falls echo back until I know

myself as empty as this place is full
of nothing built by humans except those

cliff-perched rooms of stone and chips
of chert, one of which is translucent,

veined in red streaks as I hold it up
to light, remember a word

like bone, and as each thing spills
into the pungent

anticipatory air: earth and stone,
root, and leaf, until

the sky releases –
and pools of water are held

in kettle holes, silvered in late
sun, I walk with something whole

inside me that this land has
given, something I used to call

rain.


A Sea Inside

i.

Moonlit field sloping down from a thicket of alder, deeper cedar and fir forest beyond: the body of a brindled wolf lay still, dragged there by hind legs, two bullet holes in her flank, matted blood, shellacked dark fur surrounding the hole where the bullet tunneled and exploded her heart. From the window, the farmer who shot and dragged and left her there can see her form in the field, her brindled fur paler than grass in moonlight. She was heavy and stiff as he dragged her over sharp stones and brambles – he winced a bit as if he could feel that pain.

ii.

Another wolf, smaller and darker, sat beside her body. The moon drew an outline of the dark wolf, ears upright, head turned towards the house, darker than anything, an outline of black, magnet of night. The dark wolf had come out cautious and low, sniffed the length of her, lingering over the dried blood, and sat. The smell of her body still her and not her, her musk fading and sinking into the ground as the other smell rose and filled her form, this other smell that pinned the dark wolf beside her, sitting and watching as if leaving would let the smell collapse, let it flood her body and beyond her body to the field and the forest and back into night itself, into its closeness and its vast reach. The dark wolf had not moved, would not move until first light spilled between branches onto the field.

iii.

The moon washed over both wolves, alive and dead, with its bonelight. The moon loved both wolves equally in its cool shine. The moon poured light over all of it: behind the woods: the road, the post office, some houses with people sleeping, and behind that: three empty swings with glinting metal chains, and behind that: more forest and the maple tree with its world of leaves and arcing branches over the pile of pale driftwood tangled with dark ribbons of kelp. Below this: the seeping tide, hissing its way up barnacle-covered rocks, fingering into silver rivers on the low channels of sand.

iv.

The farmer turned from the window, turning also from the pooling dark, rising in his chest. The dark seeped and filled like a quiet tide inside him, each crevasse filling with its warmth. He watched the field and the wolves for a long time before turning, the warmth rising, the dark pooling inside his legs and up into his belly and rising up through. It was like missing, a soft ache deepening as it filled and rose and he thought of his daughter and her daughter sleeping in that far city and he thought of the lamb he had pulled by the hooves, gently, until it dove like water into the hay of the barn and he cupped his hand across its small face, wiping away the blood and the liquid sac that clung there, opening the nostrils and mouth and eyes to its first air. He thought of the sheep he had found behind the barn, pale skin of her belly the color of ivory or an egg, torn open and curled back so he saw the black cavity where the insides of her had been torn and swallowed. He stopped thinking and stayed still with the rising pooling dark inside him, felt it like the night itself entering him the way night enters like water rising. And finally, he turned towards sleep, as if to break the rising. As if he would not lay down in a sea of dark. As if sleep might save him.


Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, NM and teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Orion Magazine, The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Whitefish Review, Fourth River, Crab Creek Review, Tar River, Terrain.org, and elsewhere. She was a writer-in-residence at the Long-Term Ecological Reflections Program in the Andrews Forest, and she will attend a residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology this fall.



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