We Are Not Only Us
I want feet like deer
so I can walk quickly
through snow, fox ears,
to listen for those who
call me, and heron’s neck
so when I kiss the woman
who swims with otters
I can reach her lips.
The Language of Silt
The woman whose memory
sags like heartwood in a dying
alder walks the tangled fence
line to the creek past the meadow
and calls her sisters’ names.
Her tongue strums the backs
of her teeth, and she hopes she’ll
find some sound lingering
in the cracks: catkin of a word
that falls and quivers between
pink-rimmed toes curled in silt.
Raven, Hawk, and Eagle
wait on the side of the road
for the woman whose hands
spread like antlers to harvest
the last flowers before frost.
The man whose left hand
won’t open except to catch
rocks thrown by water
trails after her. And their child,
whose eyes ask the birds,
When the sky falls out beneath
you, which bones return to earth?
lifts from the ground
with long wings that steal
wind from the base
Because by six my little brother’s hair grew around the tracks
stitches leave, he wasn’t allowed to sleep on the top bunk.
With the moon, he’d crawl up the ladder, yoked in its light with moths,
as they together spun into our window. He fit himself between my back
and the wall and we waited for our breathing to match the train’s cadence.
In lung-rhythm he retold the story of tripping, the iron chair slicing
his forehead, the neighbor boy’s knee parting the skin behind his ear,
and his fear that turkey vultures, which lift like charred newspaper
above fire, would see him fall from a white pine, fly hissing toward him
until he hissed back.
Woman Who Sings the Hollow
The skin on the side of her neck molts
like the wing feathers of a ruffed grouse.
Maple syrup drizzled over snow pinches
each taste bud as it runs over her tongue.
The songs of the birds who roosted
in the maple are etched into her throat.
All we swallow shifts inside the body
like current under rock.
Growing up in central Pennsylvania, between the low mountains of the Appalachians, I learned how to watch and listen to my non-human neighbors. I’d follow the small streams that filled the river running through my valley to their birth from seeps on the plateau. In this cold water, in these folds others don’t typically frequent, I found the space of intersections and melding, where one thing became another, where I learned all things became part of the current.
But as I continued to explore what I first perceived as wilderness, I discovered the desecration that came in the previous centuries and its lasting effects on my home. The neglected and abused rivers, mountains that had been clear cut, leaving a struggling forest. The tops of these mountains pulled back like a fingernail for the coal hidden beneath the earth’s crust. In the wake of strip-mining, streams ran orange with acid mine drainage and hillsides crumbled. Forgotten villages sat in the valleys, the ancestors of those who contributed to the ruin taking their own place in the earth.
The earth is experiencing a sixth great extinction event. Climate change presses down upon us, threatening to radically alter our lives. In addition, the present administration has launched several attacks on basic scientific thought and rolled back regulations on drilling and mining operations across America’s public lands and waters. The implications of the Trump Presidency, as well as our turn toward hyper-consumerism, frightens me and causes me to wonder about the future of all species, not just human.
These poems attempt to bridge the gap between the human and non-human worlds as we try to understand what it means to live in the Anthropocene. Our belief that we are somehow separate from all other species, somehow set apart from nature, has led to such catastrophes as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; compromised wells due to fracking chemicals in West Virginia and Pennsylvania; and the dead zones that continue to grow in the Chesapeake Bay.
Even with these calamities, I recognize that I am living in a re-wilding, like so many places where humans have thought they’ve taken all they can and left. A bear turned over my birdfeeder last fall. Bobcat and coyote tracks skirt along the edges of my neighborhood. I found wild ginseng in two different hollows this May, a plant that demands healthy and undisturbed soil. We must stop filling our oceans with plastics and burning our mountains from the inside, but we must also acknowledge that we still have oceans with whales, and mountains where deer walk through rhododendron.
Noah Davis is a MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University. His poetry is published in North American Review, The Hollins Critic, Atlanta Review, Water~Stone Review, and Chautauqua among others. Davis has received Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry from both Poet Lore and Natural Bridge. His prose is published in Kestrel, The Chariton Review, American Angler, The Fly Fish Journal, Angler’s Journal, The Drake, Fly Fishing & Tying Journal and Southern Culture on the Fly.