a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Dirt-so-dark hidden beneath the vegetation of our life, bringer-of-food-that-resists and bearer of mists-that-sustain. Thank you for what you have given all us legs-that-scuttle. I know you true, through thick-cushioned-trampoline, savior of the eight pressure-pumpers. You offer yourself and I jump — rely on you to catch my pouncing without judgment. You understand I must jump-hunt to feed. You understand me even where I cannot be understood; you value my life equally, small as it may be to you in your over-sight, your knowing of the two and four-legs and the wood that skies. You do not blame me for my size, instead you facilitate this place for me, grant me my home. You keep me safe from the fly-by-nights, fly-by-days. You grant me my body: thin legs that allow me to bound so boldly from moss to dirt to decay, eight eyes with more jump-sight than I could ask for, lung-stacks like pressed leaf-pages, letting me leap endlessly, intake my air and make me jump-whole. What more can I ask of you? What more should I ask of you? Into you I hatched, back in I will jump-die. I wish to let my legs grow old and tired from jump-hunts. Let my lungs take-fold less and less. My eyes grow weary of jump-seeing so precisely (I have begun to disregard the minutiae of the ants’ march; the twitching of an antennae tells me nothing I don’t already know; they will still be my next meal) so take them from me. Let them all grow-faded like the vestigial remnants at the back of my head; I will perceive the world in black and gray, then delve down into the gritty dark of you to twitch-jump no more.
Therefore I ask only this of you: keep me safe until I have peace. Do not let jump-life be ended early by steps-so-careless: the footfalls of the two-walkers. Save me from the ill-will they bear, their lack of knowing you as true as all should. If I am to be buried beneath the hoof or paw of a four-walker, I will have been made at jump-peace, pressed into you. Four-walkers will know me in you. But a two-walker cannot find me back into your grace, only step-take me farther from you, whether in your surface-soil or on synthetic-feet. Save me from their ignorance of you. Of me. Keep me within your rough-dark blanket until I jump-fade, wanted and known, into your depths.
after Robinson Jeffers “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones”
tall and fractured behind my house. Two deer bolt,
white tails tucked low between legs
too used to running. I take another few steps
before registering a third. Dark, wide-
spread eyes focused on my unfamiliar form.
This one is younger, chalk line spots decorating
a hide yet to be scarred by the underbrush.
Not old enough to be hunted by any human
not innately cruel. Yet cowardice bows my head
and through the adrenaline whine I hear
the green of it bounding away, following the trail
left by warier hooves.
Feeling alien, I look to my bones. Splintered,
spidering out from my center, waving inanely
in the soft gusts through the trees. Once
I may have come from here, my body built
from marrow, distrustful. From old bucks
lain down in peace—in safety—in this same spot.
Here I find myself, a careless tracing of shadows—
former bodies I’ve never known.
Walking on, I don’t worry about the underbrush;
I’ll only scar. I’m not yet wild enough
to be stripped bare. My skin still clings
to shifting muscle; to bones not yet at peace.
See how they fold and break under the weight
of intention. See how far they bend, tendons
snapping at the chance to prove they can return
to more than I am. See how close I get
to the ground. Soon enough I’ll end
up on all fours.
Sam Ertelt is a Tennessee-based poet currently studying at the University of the South School of Letters MFA program in Sewanee, Tennessee. When not writing poetry, he works at the duPont Library in Sewanee, assists in the fencing program at the school, and dotes on two lovely cats in his spare time.