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

Kimberly Ann Priest


This Much

Because of the ubiquitous spraying of Roundup on corn and soy that have been genetically modified to resist herbicides, the monarch is in bad trouble in the core of its range, where its sole host plant, milkweed, is disappearing.
 
Center for Biological Diversity

 

Each year, monarchs re-populate in the Corn Belt, that vast

agricultural region in America’s heartland where they lay their eggs

on milkweed plants in spring while migrating north to Canada.

 

My friend Cruz and I stand in what used to be a cornfield, now

his handiwork of garden plots for immigrant families and milkweed plants

to provide a landing pad for sojourning monarchs to lay their eggs.

 

Here, they reproduce, and the caterpillars are sometimes whisked into jars

and kept in homes, then freed after incubation to ensure that yet

another butterfly survives the season despite

 

their overall declining numbers worldwide. I hold

my own jar frocked with milkweed stem as Cruz tells me how long

until the caterpillar will incubate and how long incubation will be. But,

 

once home the caterpillar eats and eats its way up the stem in the jar

then dies there, a long white string extending from its body.

My daughter says that this string is a sign of a pre-existing parasite.

 

Not your fault mom, she says staring into her computer where she reads

all about monarch diseases and death. Still, that gnawing sensation

that I failed a whole species by not saving this one, not knowing

 

what could have been done to cure it of the tiny predator

under its flesh. Peering into the glass jar, insect shriveled and dangling,

I am reminded that three years ago, my family witnessed

 

my shaken mind as the memories of childhood sexual assault

came rushing back and, like a tiny predator, traveled through my psyche

feasting on the tissue of my present and future

 

with terrors from my past. They watched, but could do nothing

to save me from this unraveling and, in their own fear of exposure

as helpless and vulnerable gods, accused me then and there

 

of dying, then turned away—as I began, alone, working out my narratives

hoping they would appreciate my trying. The caterpillar

hung in the jar for a whole two weeks before I decided to clean it out

 

as I let our mutual helplessness exist between us, refusing to ignore

its obvious shame. Love is never a failure, a friend of mine tells me,

and I know he means to add, even if its lost.

 

I caress the side of the jar consoling myself concerning this dead would-be

monarch, its tiny fingerlike worm sutured to the lid

knowing how long and hard it fought to accomplish just this much.


A Patch of Blue

2020

 

Strapped to a gurney, I watched the sky frown and close behind me

as the ambulance pulled away from the civilized world

 

just hours after our new president was named. Homeless, broke,

I would never see a bill from this visit

 

and I would also never have my democratic say. Now,

nearly a term later, my daughter and I sit

 

at Denny’s Diner considering candidates, as she stares into her phone

reading their values and plans. I tell her stories

 

about how Medicare saved me, the importance of listening,

and all the reasons not to follow the voting advise of her dad.

 

There are many women like me I say, remembering the moment

the psychiatrist wrote PTSD and handed me a script

 

for medication to level serotonin. Mere hours earlier her father

had stated emphatically that this was not his fault, not

 

his responsibility, that the years of pounding and thrashing, screaming

and threatening were all in my head. He was right—

 

a few scribbles on paper to confirm this, and the gaping silence

of family and friends—my packed bag plunked down

 

on a floor next to a hospital bed as the skin on my legs began itching

from not shaving. This morning,

 

I poke at the stack of pancakes swimming in syrup

as my daughter lifts her eyes in revelation: Mom! I know who I’m voting for!

 

I smile, Yeah? Yeah, she says. At eighteen, she leans into me, telling me

often I am the only parent she can trust.

 

We finish our coffee and stare out the window. I still don’t know

who to vote for this primary; I only know

 

who not. She breaks my contemplation with the inevitable question

after a long explanation of Medicare-for-All

 

during which the clouds shallow and part losing their possession

of this unusually warm Michigan spring day: Who will you

 

vote for Mom? The servers and cooks clink and shuffle

behind us, their jocular demeanor exposing our northern vulnerability

 

to a little bit of post-winter sun. I didn’t see the sky outside

that hospital room for almost three days, or even realize it’s happening.

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Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress Publications 2021) as well as chapbooks Still Life (PANK 2020), Parrot Flower (Glass 2020), and White Goat Black Sheep (FLP 2018). Winner of the 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize in the New Poetry from the Midwest anthology by New American Press, she is currently an Assistant Professor of First-Year Writing at Michigan State University, an associate editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and a reader for Embody at The Maine Review.



Other works by Kimberly Ann Priest

  • Practices of Hope May 2020

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