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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

Patricia Davis-Muffett

The Burden

You have always known the right names–

corrected me if I mistook a tamarin for a marmoset

as I held your hand on the zoo’s path.

You, who studied Tanganyika’s cichlids at 8,

you, mesmerized by coral’s synchronized spawn.


What was it we said

at the entrance to the butterfly garden?

Did we tell you to keep your hands to yourself?

Be gentle with these creatures who can lose

but never regrow scales required for flying?

What made you, future scientist, think

we warned you of a power

only you possessed–the curse

that would ground all butterflies?


For years, we lived in ignorance,

your eyes closed tight, your grimace,

the way you pulled your arms in tight,

when a Monarch or Swallowtail



Now, in your lab

as you unwind genes,

fill the gaps left by failed

curiosity, in your fever dreams

where you imagine samples

spoiling next to your too-warm body

I wonder if you feel the shadow

of that time when you imagined

yourself the only one–

as if we don’t all have

the power to destroy, as if

we are not all terrified.

As you inch away

4.5 billion years ago, when I was alone

in space, and the thing that wasn’t you yet

hurtled into my sky untethered by forces

that (I thought) we all obeyed.


After impact, your shards regrouped,

became your gorgeous face, looming

so close to my verdant body, held

by my gravity, as I taught you

how the universe worked, how to

bow to the Sun, even as you churned

with lava, radiation, a volatile satellite.


You were just 14,000 miles away.

So close, I could always feel your breath

across my blue/green shoulder.

You made me dizzy as I spun,

my days lasting just five hours.


Over the years, I have watched

as my relentless tides pushed you

farther into the deep–imperceptible

at first, as your surface became

more calm, more desert-like.


Already you are nearly 250,000 miles away.

But ours is a longer measure

and I can’t help but imagine

how it will be when you finally

break free of me.


When it’s done, I will teeter, wobbling in space,

my seasons careening from summer to winter

in hours or days. My tides will be unhinged,

and for lack of you, everything I’ve built

over all these long millenia

will be dust and ash once more.


Patricia Davis-Muffett (she/her) holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Her work has won numerous honors including honorable mention in the 2021 Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award, and first honorable mention in the 2021 Outermost poetry contest, judged by Marge Piercy. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, Quartet Journal and Comstock Review, among others. She lives in Rockville, Maryland, and makes her living in technology marketing.

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