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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

Anne Haven McDonnell


Three cows wade across the pasture—elk

I mean, wild milk in females that lie down together, down

river in that stretch of bosque, unbuilt and shaded and hidden.


Their ilk need privacy, water, good green grass, places to dream elk

dreams inside elk minds with quiet elk teeth and elk music

and elk musk. I hold my breath when they stop at the fence


in the field—impossible but like water, they leap with elk

grace from standstill—one, two, three up and over and gone.

When they bark from the opposite shore and stare


at me, I wonder what bark means in elk

language. I wonder what the sirens and eerie whale-whistle

songs that bulls sing in fall means to the cows


they call to. I wonder what solitude means to that bull elk

who stood alone under cottonwoods, his massive bulk

of elk body holding up the great weight


of chiseled bone, velvet blood and fur on his elk

antlers scraping off with the bark, leaving raw wood

and raw bone. There was mist that day, rare


and hanging low on the Chama, so that he was a dream elk,

his massive body planted while his crown stirred

swirls of fog and the density of him grew and grew


in wisps of white mist. Last fall, during the elk

rut, my friend saw an enormous stabbed elk, half-

hidden in river. On the failed hunt, dusk broke


with gunshot. Near the seep, two dead elk—

stripped flanks, marbled red and blue and white gristle,

bottled with iridescent flies buzzing where the hunters


had stripped their cuts. I too sometimes eat elk

meat. When we bought the land, we cut the barbed wire

along the river. Elk poop, fresh and frosty the next day


in the bosque. When I say I love this land, I mean elk

leave shit and hoof prints and fur and teeth marks. I mean

the sound of hooves on river cobbles when they run.

The Baby Deer

I know she’s called a fawn. But baby

I think when this one wobbles onto the road,

each step stacking fresh bones, her body just congealed

trembles, stutters behind her mother.

When she falls, it’s all-at-once

crashing to a nest of stillness on the pavement.

Kneeling beside her, I try let’s go now, come on now—


The slit of her eyes stares to some ancient well

of instinct, unmoving. Is she breathing?

When I wrap the towel around her,

her legs let go limp, dangle as I carry her

to grass. Here’s the place I tell you

I have no children. Here’s the flood

of mother un-fed inside, rushing

and shining for its moment. I carry her


tenderly with a towel, careful not to leave

my scent. I put her down and the ground gathers

her speckled fur, limbs folding into themselves, even breath

bundled into hush. I know her mother, hidden, waits.

I can’t regret my actual life. This one

where I walk away.


Anne Haven McDonnell teaches as a full professor of Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. A recipient of a 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry, she is the author is Breath on a Coal, winner of the Halycon Poetry Prize from Middle Creek Press, and the chapbook Living with Wolves from Split Rock Press. Her poetry has been published in Orion Magazine, Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. Anne Haven holds an MFA from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She helps edit poetry for the online journal

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