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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

Catherine Carter

The women who slept all winter

The women who slept all winter have wakened

to April. Their figures are impeccable,

their waists tiny, their feet all grace; they

are many-colored, yellow and gold,

rust and brown as earth. One, a slender

hunter, is metallic blue-green as the fangs

of the daring jumping spider; another,

brown-striped as water in sunlight,

is house-hunting. Hovering she ponders

this balcony’s rail, checks the ridge

of roof which shades it. Soon she will begin

to build: chewing and shaping a claim

shanty of a few cells, alone at first until

she can raise up daughters (who knows

what they say to each other, their subjects

of waspish gossip). Eventually in her house

there will be many rooms, maybe

with other houses inside those for yet

smaller creatures. Even in this house,

there are rooms I’ve never seen; even

here, all these houses within houses.

The fire ants

The man came home twitching to burn

something alive, saw the hill

of the crimson ants with acid jaws,

decanted the gas can like wine

into the hole in the hill:

scratch, catch, fwoomp of flame,

inaudible shrieks of the thousands,

fire lapping through closed passages,

everyone flash-fried, children popped

like corn. Only the burrows went on beyond

the mound, twenty feet, thirty,

clear to the dusty drought-stubble of scrub

bracing the shotgun house. Whoosh

and hiss, blazing tongues racing from earth

to sky, yard flashing heavenwards,

man running for water,

flogging dirt with a rake: face

to face with one of those truths

of the hollow earth riven through

with tunnels and mines, everything

connecting everything else. Under

the membrane we call

this world, this world

is the world of the ant, set here

on six feet long before we came,

standing steady on her ash-black hill,

prepared to endure long

after the man goes, long after the fire.

Writing spider

Flies being fewer than they were,

I string my orb, sequined with rain,

in the blue sage beside a hive,

where I may well be stung to death

when I dart in to bind and drink,

unless my iridescent fangs

sink in more quickly than the sting.


But it’s a fearful thing to spin

or weave with my yellow-striped legs,

to build the orb with my third claw;

fearful to learn to sign a name

upon each evening’s masterpiece

in runes only the bee can read,

and she, only too late. Is it

my secret name? is it the bee’s?


You, who are stumbling, blundering

toward flickering gossamer,

the inward spiral of my web,

you poisoner of native flies,

you have no longer any need

to introduce yourself, to speak

your name where I can hear,

no need to open up your mouth

and let me count your mandibles,

for me to write your name in silk:

this is the day when you will read

your name, where it is already

inscribed upon the silk, a sign.


Catherine Carter’s poetry collections include Larvae of the Nearest Stars, The Swamp Monster at Home, The Memory of Gills (all with LSU Press), and the chapbook Marks of the Witch (with Jacar Press). Her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry, Orion, Poetry, Ploughshares, RHINO, Ecotone, and North American Review, among others. She is a professor of English at Western Carolina University in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. On a good day, she can re-queen a hive of honeybees and roll a whitewater kayak; on less good days, she collects stings, rock rash, and multiple contusions.

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