a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
along a blacktopped road, up ahead
you see an animal blur across your lane.
Another groundhog you suppose,
wonder what’s tagging behind,
young’uns maybe in a clumsy little parade–
it’s hard to say when sun dazzles
the windshield that way & then you’re there,
you brake & oh oh oh a beaver hauls
a chiseled sapling longer than your leg.
Tangled branches & leaves tambourine.
The beaver vanishes into emerald spears
of grass that curtain a wetland stream.
Unlike the day at Woodcock Dam, you park the car,
ready to open the cargo hatch,
pause before you release your dogs.
Two men step from the trail, both dressed
in blaze orange & camo & oh no no no
that’s a beaver that dangles from one
man’s hand. You see trapper’s trophy
& your mind wants to dive, get away,
but spellbound you stare at plush pelt,
webbed feet & waffle-ironed paddle tail.
Moved, you ask the beaver’s forgiveness
as you reach for feral fur, scrutinize
four teeth the color of tangerines. The young hunter
assures you dogs are safe from traps
so long as they don’t swim underwater.
He laughs. You nod. Pelts aren’t fetching
much, he says, he’ll cut the beaver up
for coyote bait. You glance away
but recall the trapper’s face again the day
you find a crumpled beaver decomposing in Conneaut
Marsh. Her syrupy odor parks in your throat
& nose. You wonder if that’s fragrance of castor
you breathe or beaver broth as it vinegars
on a dirt road. Flies chainsaw in a fevered pitch,
a thousand green eyes stud rotten beaver flesh,
the beaver’s mouth a mosh pit where maggots
jacknife & whiplash. You puzzle out a film
of beaver blood that captures light, call to mind
sun struck, shaggy conifers at Marble
Creek, Idaho wilderness. An old abandoned
splash dam like a kid’s crude fort, you
& hiking buddy Carrie crouch inside, spot
a curious stick half covered with silt, reflecting
in a minnow pool. Carrie’s hand reaches
underwater, but the stick pulls away, pool craters
with a shattering splash, beaver’s blocky
head pops up, turns around, & stares at you
face to face. You conjure wild things differently now,
remembering how the beaver held your gaze,
decades later, still ponder what it felt like
when she looked into your eyes.
of her body, black brushstrokes scumbled with branchlight
and dust. You stare at her wild predicament.
No sound, but the hush of her quiets the neighborhood.
Fear and amazement crouch at the back of your throat.
You picture her a late night, roving appetite: haystack body,
stout ramp of neck, her slanting snout, slippered feet–
crossing yards and sidewalks, blacktopped streets,
dumpster diving after dark, silhouette like purling water
or a shadow sylph from the dark side of flower moon.
You watch two uniforms mount the floating platform
of the hook and ladder truck. A knot of unknowing twists
your gut when gloved hands pull the jabstick’s
tranquilizer from the velvet slope of black bear’s shoulder.
Time tumbles back. Years ago, Mom said No more animals.
Home alone, you heard the rumble of a truck outside, footsteps
banging up the 3rd floor stairs, a man in SPCA uniform, strange
hands reaching for your cat, hauled her out the door, your face
pasted to the window pane. You fought to keep your rattling heart
from clawing out your rib cage. You watch the bear hug tight the tree,
wish that you could love the way the maple loves, hold wild bewilderment
in your arms all day, like a fallen angel or morning prayer.
See the purses of black bear’s eyes unsnap, head sways, mouth
unhinges like the busted bucket of a stranded backhoe. You
look away. Pink muscle of her ropey, petal tongue dangles loose.
When a bear’s lost in town, I worry more about the bear than people,
you hear a woman standing next to you say. Catchers fluff the orange
rescue net. Two stories up, in cordoned air, strange man grabs and yanks.
Wonder how it feels to catch a falling constellation
in your hands. Not like moon, or song, or falling star—
black bear drops, ponderous as churchyard’s chiseled stone.
Hear haunt of wild animal hunger claw deep inside,
the way longing forever drifts you to an empty maple tree,
net of branches weaving shadows, hauls your breath away.
Juanita Smart is an emerging poet whose work has appeared in Rise Up Review, River Heron Review, and Honeyguide Literary Magazine, among others. She writes because writing makes her pay more intimate attention to the more-than-human world, and because writing brings her joy. She finds her best ideas for poems and nonfiction prose while exploring local Pennsylvania game lands with her three dogs Gabe, Liberty, and Wilson.