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

Ted Lardner

Letter to Marion from after Midnight

Almost more than anything I wanted, I wanted

to hold him, the infant boy, my arms in that cloudless sky

over Ruby Lake, but you know all this, how life looks

towards the farther end of the journey.


Once in a while, into the moment,

a line from the origin

reaches clear through us. I felt it almost,

skillfully, tenderly

passing through the young mother,

her arms, her voice

in the seat beside me,

as she shifted her infant,

he was bliss-faced, I could see,

from her right breast

to her left breast, she nursed him

in flight, all the way through—

a whisper, the line, a contrail

crossing a desert sky.


Where are they taking them?

Where on the dark flights

across the continent,

herded through the deserted terminals

are they taking the children?

To cages on the border?

My whole life you taught me

to wage peace.

Be the prince of owls,

hear the hidden thing.

Attend the deepening.

How can I help it

when feathers spread

from my shoulders? Talons

spring from my fingertips?


In a brightly illuminated,

soundproof room, mirrors

covering the walls,

every instant he looks,

he turns back into,

sees only himself,

the President, fixed

in infinite regress.

Barely space inside

to breathe.

In the internment camp

tent city cages on the border,

under guard, harsh arc lights,

children locked like dogs

in the desert. And it doesn’t

stop there, the apparatus

operates everywhere, operates in us:

put your shoes on the conveyer,

empty your pockets,

spread your legs.


I look at the moon out the window,

breathe the free air.

Two mosquitos watch me

watch two towering

Jeffrey pine trees turn to

ink, swooping forms—

an 18th-century

Chinese scroll painting

tall as twelve houses.

The pollen they spread

lands like a coating,

bitter, potent, solstice flour

dusting the open sill.


The baby, sleeping, pressed to his mother’s heart.

It’s not that they do or do not have names:

maybe stars exist

to create, for all of us, for anyone,

the possibility of naming.

Maybe that’s how

the light gets through.


Already, the three boys,

I wonder, can you see them?

Passing the moon on the skyroad

heading towards the forest?

The older, taller one walks farther away.

The younger two, bright, small, stop, turn.

Catch from the edge

of the blade the gleam

of the knife I test with my finger.

Bird with Brown Feathers

In the tenth chapter of the coronavirus lock-in

he buried a wish, a bird with feathers black and brown.

Down it fluttered, or escaped. Like a window opening,

climbing through itself out of this locked town.

West of the rudbeckia beds a pink full moon drifted.

Descending its arc, picking orders for the shut-ins.

The wake of its route like a burst of high-def pictures

rang when the bird opened like a pink velvet purse, poured out

its silver clatter, its skeletal kite with tail tied of loops

like sharp earrings on fish string that rounded the wish

and loosened it again, a silence sinking

the blue lassos of cardinal flowers. He gave himself up.

The moon burned like tallow. Above the prairie, like static

in the clouds, a mask of forgiveness wore his heart.

His love was about the weight of a mouse nest.

Something vernal, something infernal had bitten the neck

of the doe and run away, another’s voice in its mouth, blood in its teeth.

When the fox cried, thunder pounded through the door.

The line hummed where the grass lay flattened,

bent by runoff gone from the rain ditch: tracks

through a fairy tale about the soul. At the bird feeder, the bird

with brown feathers and no name. Above the stump

where evening settled, the morning sun felt warm.

He gaveled the last cinders from the cellar of his burnt heart.

Others will find where the promise rests. In the temple

the smoke disperses, the sacrifices, caged or tied, all let go.

In the shed, high in the eaves, a colony of paper wasps

enclosing a future, pasting lives into rounds of sealed cells.

He bends, translating the fennel. With every turn of breath,

another alterity lost. Behind him, the rising daylight

painting it eggshell blue, a house he once thought he lived in

floats in the air.

Not You

Last night nearly midnight well after curfew and the fire going out when it started, the barking, first I thought little of it, I was working on a list, my life in lists, this one, what is dangerous to forget. But when you live long enough you learn to hear what the dog in the night is saying and not saying when it barks, when far away it barks, and yet because I know the cops knelt because they were arming themselves to rush the protestors, they were not alongside the protesters praying, that’s how I found myself walking into the tumultuous future past the shadows of MAGA flags like hands trying to erase the painted center line, all the way down, hours after curfew, deserted, the middle of County Line Road, while Clarence, or Charley, a farm dog, I’ve been forgetting names, kept chipping away at it, chipping away the stone of silence that Rilke said closes humans off from animals and angels off from humans, each in turn closed off from the knowledge of their own death. I love my dogs so much, says God.

Any given night, after hours of not sleeping or worse slipping in and out of quarantine anxiety dreams I go out sometimes and lie down with them in the animal night, I think you will understand if I am pretending then to become a figure of varied stars and ages and brightnesses asleep in the heavens revolving on the pinhole the Pole Star makes. You’ll have to look closer than that to find it, it doesn’t shout. The center doesn’t clear Lafayette Square with tear gas and batons then walk to the door of St. John’s Church to pose with a Bible upside down in its right hand. The President is going to kill my wife if I don’t end him first. Every night and every morning I pray his sclerotic heart blacks out, pray his Adderall addiction kicks him, and for the suffocating virus to descend again. And when I’m done praying, back down I retrace the footprints I left as I stepped off the roof beseeching the heavens for all of these things, and whisper to my darkness a promise, how gladly I will eat the President’s liver in hell, but then I just lie down instead, on a pile of blankets with the dogs, and together we listen to the great invisible wings in the top of the chimney make a thumping sound like a pulse, beating.


Ted Lardner’s writing has recently appeared in Pleiades, Missouri Review, and other journals. He is the author of two chapbooks, Tornado (Kent State UP 2008), and We Practice For It (Sunken Garden Poetry Award/Tupelo 2014). He teaches at Cleveland State University.

Other works by Ted Lardner »

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