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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

Todd Davis

Visiting the House of Water

Ursus has never seen the ocean, but he swims

the mountain’s green sea in the month of May.


With each stroke, claws ransack logs, capsize rocks,

tear the sides of speckled fawns to fill the ravine


of his ravenous need, chasing away the dream

inside long winter months: a beetle that eats


from the inside, stringing muscle and skinning

him to a skeletal twin. Within this embrace


the hot smell of a sow bear draws him out

of himself and into the space she opens:


acceptance helping him to understand

what it means to join another, to make another


life that will outlive him. As she must

the sow casts Ursus outside the fence


of her love to protect her cubs.

We’ve heard stories about those thrown


overboard, set adrift. I’ve seen Ursus’s head

among laurel flowers, face wreathed in pink


as he searches the horizon for a small black

body that looks like him, rowing the deepest


troughs of green, the overturning waves

in the highest branches that splash in the wind.

Light of the World

Behind the spidered roots
of a windthrown hemlock
Ursus hides
as speckled trout midstream
porpoise to eat mayflies born
with no mouth and only
two days to live.
The sides of these fish steal
orange from the mountain’s
western slope, and their red
spots, circled with blue sky,
remind Ursus of the bee balm
that grows along the stream.
In his second year he cut his left
foot as he crossed the road at the spine
of the mountain, some drunk-
thrown bottle hobbling him
until the shard caught on a log
and slid out with the ruddy smear
of a crescent moon.
Ursus prays without a word
for prayer, crawling the bank’s
edge, scattering trout
who swim under rocks.
Some call this bliss,
others Sun House.
Ursus paws the water,
ripples the light of the world
painted over tens of thousands
of years on the sides
of these fish who somehow
Two ridges to the south
a stream rusts
and nothing lives
because of the coal
our grandfathers carried
to the surface.
Ursus sits, allowing the self
to depart, and soon the fish
think the bear has become
stone and begin to rise
to the flies who are dying,
spinning to the water’s surface,
their funeral boats set adrift.

For David James Duncan


Todd Davis is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Coffin Honey and Native Species, both published by Michigan State University Press. He has won the Midwest Book Award, the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Bronze and Silver Awards, the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Editors Prize, and the Bloomsburg University Book Prize. He is an Emeritus Fellow of the Black Earth Institute and in 2016 edited “Animals Among Us: Strangeness, Intimacy, and Reciprocity,” a special issue of About Place Journal focused on our more-than-human kin. He teaches environmental studies at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College. 

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