Outside my house, a gutted buck dangles
from a tree limb. Two men pull the buck’s hide
like tugging on a bell rope in a tower.
Their children swing on the swing set.
I’ve never seen a deer slaughtered,
never seen many things slaughtered.
I once saw my father gut a squirrel. Doesn’t smell right, he said. He put the squirrel
an inch away from my face. Sniff it, he said. I smelled it, sucked in the odor
like my last breath and shrugged my shoulders
not knowing what I was sniffing for.
He dug a hole in the yard. You got to dig the hole deep enough,
he said. So the dogs can’t smell it and dig it up.
I wonder where the heart is,
where the spleen is,
if the men will leave the buck
disemboweled in two locations.
I press my face to the screen door.
A child pets the hide splayed over
the laundry line, the other watches
the hacking off of hooves.
“From a Tree Limb” first appeared in Pleiades and is in Jar of Pennies.
About the Author:Sean Karns has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Illinois and a BA from The Ohio State University. He is the author of a collection of poetry, Jar of Pennies, and his poetry has appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Hobart, Rattle, Pleiades, Los Angeles Review, Cold Mountain Review, Folio, and elsewhere; and his poetry has been anthologized in New Poetry from the Midwest. He is currently the poetry editor at Mayday Magazine.
But why should it care? It munches
a cecropia leaf. It probes the air
with its blunt snout, detecting
a waft of sour coconut. It lumbers to a branch,
grabs hold with its claws, drops,
dangling upside down like a knapsack.
It doesn’t know to feel ashamed
that its name means lazy and sinful.
Like my little sister
after her abortion, when our father
changed her name from Molly to Molly.
Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.
Marianne Kunkel is the author of the chapbook The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press), as well as many poems that have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Notre Dame Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. A former managing editor of Prairie Schooner, she is an assistant professor of creative writing and publishing at Missouri Western State University, where she edits the undergraduate literary journal The Mochila Review. Follow her on Twitter @mariannekunkel.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is awesome for a myriad of reasons. Because it is about sloths (sort of). Because it is about words, about labels, about judgment and ignorant bliss. Because it vibrant both with images and with sound. Because it houses epic proportions in eleven short lines. Because its advocacy relies on neither a soap box nor a sense of superiority. But what is most striking about today’s poem, perhaps, is its volta. The way it turns the world of the poem on its head. The way it leaves the reader staggering, contemplative, changed.
Editor’s Note: The What Would I Say app is turning all of us into weird, self-involved robot poets. Stephanie Goehring shares some thoughts on this social media phenomenon and an in-progress poem composed entirely of her own What Would I Say results:
What Would Stephanie Say?
Probably That I’m a Narcissist (But That’s OK)
By Stephanie Goehring
A friend of mine, a fiction writer, keeps joking on Facebook about how obsessed poets are with the What Would I Say app. And it’s true: Just about all of the What Would I Say posts in my news feed have come from writers, and the poets are the ones who seem to be totally losing their minds over it.
When I first used this website, my thought process went something like this: Oh, this is hilarious. This is really interesting. This is beautiful. This is nonsense. But then I started thinking about how many people were posting results from the website that only seemed to fall into the latter category. So why were they flooding all of their friends’ news feeds with this garbage? And of course the answer is because they think their bot-self statuses are hilarious or interesting or beautiful. Even when the reality is that the particular post is bullshit. But we post it because it’s our own bullshit. In fact, it’s bullshit made of our own bullshit. It’s something we posted on Facebook (so, really, what’s the value of the initial language the bot is working with?) and then we repost it, garbled, as if that means anything.
But it does mean something. It says something about our collective narcissism. It says something about how we are constantly recording our own lives rather than and in addition to living them, how we all repeatedly throw ourselves against the wall of the Internet so that we can hear the echo. And that’s disgusting, but it’s also amazing. Because we aren’t the only ones who hear the echo.
And for poets in particular, I think that’s part of what makes What Would I Say so enticing: It’s replicating the experience of writing a poem. Language comes from you (meaning from everywhere else, too), is ordered (or disordered) and then thrown against the wall of the world so that it can become a sound that made another sound.
I wanted to do something with that: take the Facebook Stephanie that the Internet threw against the wall of itself and try to get that Facebook Stephanie to make a sound of her own—one that might matter to someone else. And I wanted to avoid using this bot-generated language to write a poem about poetry itself because that would just be an example of this kind of narcissism: A poem that gazes at its own navel to me seems far worse than a person who does (even if that person does so while taking a selfie and then posts it on Facebook).
In the parking lot when photographing your own intense feelings
only you should be disgusting like the march of the national anthem.
I don’t have a state dance. We need more than my empty living.
I had a lengthy conversation with the whole world
in a sequined dress and eating cold south winds gusting to go.
I like to recognize me, squeeze the tornado threat,
watch crowds of my blood, the dancing girl who tells me
I hear someone who intimidates people like a swimsuit model.
I’ve decided to be able to be italicized.
We need to reach me. You can do it
if you are the time, all of the supermoon.
Oh I still feel like four hours ago
except that I keep rereading my phone.
I’ve decided to be the word.
Fun fact for sale:
You can make a disciple. They lay eggs
in the box, looking for creative writing like you.
I hear you, and mentally, so hot tub connected.
I’m saying a word is cheap and get the stomach flu.
You can love YouTube.
Did you know it’s a fucking universe?
A blind contour drawing of drunk girls
losing someone else’s virginity?
When I rotate my arm, everything will take forever.
I will trigger scattered thunderstorms,
break his neck in his elementary school,
eat the playground and then venture out.
Even music wouldn’t do this listening to the rest of its life.
So am I. So if you
get punched in the universe,
try to write a cute photograph
thinking about the seasons as if we need you.
*The language in this poem is bot-generated in its entirety, with only capitalization and punctuation changed.
Stephanie Goehring is co-author, with Jeff Griffin, of the chapbook I Miss You Very Much (Slim Princess Holdings, 2011/13) and author of the chapbook This Room Has a Ghost (dancing girl press, 2010). She is also a visual artist. Find her online here.