a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
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.
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 Terrain.org.