a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
sleeping in the tawny fall sedge. They chew
and stare past their lazy memory, grasses culled
below the subdivision, on the protected
headland, in all the wolfless meadows.
When we wake to their alien brays and whistles
of want haunting the night like loon calls,
it is the land, divided and tamed,
that unsettles. We came for the absence—
dark that reveals the stars, quiet
that unveils the voices of animals.
It takes time to wonder
what is missing, to hear how the land
whispers what is gone towards
what is leaving. One by one,
the elk wade and enter the salt river,
their heads tilt up and bob
with the effort of their paddling
hooves. They leave a layer of fur
floating like foam on the surface.
Once, people burned this headland
to sing back the salmon in the mouth
of the river, to spur and thicken
the grasses for grazing elk. Now
a barbed wire fence and a wooden sign
keeps people off the meadowed cliffs
above the sea. I find an opening and crawl
through, creeping between dried stalks
of asters, sunflowers, clumps of fall grass.
What lonely song spurs and quivers
as I walk towards the herd, watching
an ear flick, a tail lift, a back tilt
into stilled alert. When I smell
the rich privacy of musk, I open
the palms of my hands and all
at once, they rise and turn to see
what I am. Before they run, I sit
and hide in the tall grass, take
my eyes to the ground and try
to breathe myself into something still,
Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, NM and teaches as an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She also teaches a course on climate justice and has been a leader on campus sustainability projects. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Orion Magazine, The American Journal of Poetry, The Georgia Review, Nimrod Journal, Dark Mountain, About Place Journal, Tar River, Terrain.org, in Nature and Environmental Writing: A Craft Guide and Anthology, and elsewhere. Her poems won the fifth annual Terrain.org poetry prize and have been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Anne has been a resident at the Andrews Forest Writing Residency and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.