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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

Kathryn Petruccelli

The Deer   

Point Lobos State Reserve


Through copse of pine, the deer and I watch—

body of an otter, whiskered skiff skimming across

surface below sea cliff. This edge of continent.

Where deer content themselves to wander toward

waxy water, ears acting axis of alarm.


Antlers are the fastest growing living tissue.

Forked bone-crowns, still velvet, are reinventing

their reign as happens with each new year. The deer

meet soft ground with careful hooves as if

mythologies piled on their backs—weightless:

enchanted princess, messengers of gods, friend to saints.


We go on populating our tales—something to kill, something

to do the killing. And what if these creatures

before me now found, as I did, in the place

just back a hundred yards where the trees diffuse,

the skeleton of a deer taken down

by the mountain lion a season past? Nothing,


not even the very bones of who we are,

could change the rightness of this morning.

That Was the Summer

I learned to speak with the hummingbirds.

They crowded into my days, small and plentiful, chirping

from the garden trellis, motoring to and from the echeveria

flowers. I learned their language as you might any language:

by listening, copying, by pointing while they nodded and repeated

the words. They came whenever they could—they were busy,

barrelrolling through sunbeams, checking, checking on things.

Tiny mayors attending to their cities. We talked about

nicotania blossoms, how one holds the body apart

from what is being consumed. About azalea, bee balm, salvia.

We talked about redwoods and the traffic and cats.

I told them how I’d been thinking lately of Ireland and Tuscany

and they understood completely. Foxglove and lavender, they agreed.

We often mentioned wings and windows, debated the ideal length

of the tongue. Eventually I abandoned meals, messages that piled

unread, spent every minute in the garden hanging on their counsel—

iridescent monks practicing vows of constant motion.

All summer long they hummed, scrawling their signature

onto wide sky, nectar-driven teachers of song.

Advice from a Fathead Minnow

Rest. We wake and sleep by the natural light cycle, like you

once did. No use for eyelid, our dreamlife one of simple

drift from this glass world to another. How convenient

that light behaves like a wave—the ease of taking


into dreamwaters what we know from waking life—brilliant glow

of phosphorescence in red, yellow, green, slip of scene,

sweet scrim draped like a tail across the familiar. Our night

a superior peace, grace of story. I can tell what you were thinking—


that we watched a dreamfilm in black and white.

Sorry unfinned beast, committed as you are

to the spectrum of visible light, imagine for a moment

orgasmic chromatics, stage set in ultraviolet. Every organism


is schooled before birth in the stuff of stimuli, perhaps that’s why

you’re surprised at our capacity for belief, the way it rides a riverbed

beyond beauty, how we too can be fooled by illusions

of sight, things we thought would feed us but instead left us


gutted. Why else would we qualify as counsel unless we knew

what it was to be flawed, to make a choice then withdraw,

or become a martyr for a larger cause? Disappointed

it’s not instinct alone that churns our senses? Listen,


you’ve had a hard day, jostled in the shoal. Rest

from who you think you are. Find a cave, rock overhang. Sleep. Desire relaxed

is pleasure. Pelvic fin twitches like a heart-beat, keeps steady. Now,

look out to your cloud-marked sky, find a slit like a gill and breathe.


A poet with roots in spoken word, Kathryn Petruccelli holds an MA in teaching English language learners. Her poetry and essays have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Southern Review, Los Angeles Review, Tinderbox, Hunger Mountain, Sweet Lit, and elsewhere. She’s taught workshops for California Poets in the Schools, Mass Poetry, and Seattle’s Hugo House Youth Programs, as well as for adults online. As a tour guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum, Kathryn gets to spend days steeped in her favorite combination of story, voice, and place.

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