Poems

CAITLIN ROACH the rut

most of what
my mother believes
was taught to her
by faith. there is
suffering so sacred
it appears on the body
like a score she says
and takes no account
of the wrong done to her.
I tell my mother
in the poisoned water
they found fish
with beaks and eyes
that blinked. I tell my
mother just before midnight
on new year’s eve
five thousand blackbirds
fell from the skies
followed by five
hundred more somewhere else.
I tell my mother starlings
were among them.
I tell her masses of carp
corpses bobbing for miles
in the water were there
I saw them. I saw
the winged bodies fall too
and she says prove it.
in so much light
they slowly disappear I say
and lose her.

I tell my mother the mysteries
of nearly one hundred false
killer whales stranding
themselves in the everglades
suffocated in the mangroves
canopying their blowholes
have scientists baffled
but believing
one grew sick and so
the rest followed to shore
out of loyalty or faith
in collective healing, their eighty-
something bodies
left wading in the waters
and we believe it,
and the one of the decade-
long dying off in fleets
of right whale calves
in the algal blooms.
sometimes we can’t
find an answer, we don’t see
a smoking gun
one says. there is danger
in the water
I tell my mother
and it is no accident.
in the time I write this
a hand draws permission
again to poison
the Sioux’s sacred water
to keep good
on so many promises
made in such bad faith
with so much
suffering attached.
what turns up in
the water then will be
no mystery but imitation
resurfacing.

for months
I’ve been dreaming
of babies sucking
at my chest with mouths
that don’t belong to me.
this body is yet den
to another, no germ
in the resting spore
even if I wanted it.
though I swear
I’ve seen dewy pools
at my nipples, faith
in their readying for
some coming mouth.
last night I returned
to my birth
this is true
believe me. when we
were girls, M and I
hid in rooms
with dolls’ faces
pressed to our chests,
their smooth plastic heads
cold on our skin.
I could sense its small mouth
clicking and mark it
my earliest memory
of arousal. I had
that girl on her knees.
I had many girls
on their knees
sucking and clicking
between my legs.
I tell my husband
to look at me
and he does. it’s not
that I want to be seen
I just want to be watched.
I’m being surveilled
each second
so I may as well
get something out of it.

in response to the onset
of darkness, a doe
readies for breeding. not
out of desire or choice
but design, effecting
herself the way
a machine knows
or does not
what it is
to do but does it
anyway. the act
without audience
becomes what.
when the day sobers
itself of light, a buck
sheds his velvet
and knows
in his body a doe
need be near. it is a miracle
the intelligence
of the body. it is winter
and this body knows it.

the relation of sun-
shine and suicide is not
what you think. we think
less violently in winter
and so suicide is up
in warm months.
everything begins to awake
one scientist said
relations spring up
interchanges increase. in
other words it is
the density of human
interactions not
the environment
that suicide bends to
in the long warm days
of spring and summer.
a doe is bred in winter
so to birth in spring
when the weather is warm
and food plentiful, meaning
the season of birth
for one is that
of decided death
for another. no wonder
then that October
in the cemetery
those two does
I thought in earnest
were ghosts
bounding mutely
over leaf-mold graves
knowing a buck
was near we were
falling in love.

a buck tends a doe
meaning he waits.
a buck tends a doe
in her receptive
period, receptive
meaning sanctioned
meaning a border
is open so cross it. a doe
is in heat meaning
she smells right
for only twenty-
four hours.
if they are not bred
during this time
they recycle one
man said. it’s that
passive acting-
upon I can’t bear, the
are bred like the
transaction is penned
by a third party,
a dirty hand that has
no business there
to begin with.
at the peak of the rut a buck
will chase every doe
he encounters. his feat
is trapping one
who won’t run. often
the only witness
to this is the man
with the gun
hunting the buck
hunting the doe.
at risk of becoming
a redundancy there
is no counter
for the doe
but to run.

in suffering
my mother says
one must have faith
but outside the window
I sense nothing
save the whitetail
deer and its ghost
near a fawn
whose bleating
pulls the buck
craving the doe
in search of it
into range. rational
agent, serve me
a body I can serve
with this mouth.
when you call I will come
out of hiding for you.

there are no miracles
anymore I tell my mother
though these nights
I dream a chorus
of slick-shelled ticks
clicking in their masses
pour through the dark
fault at the foot of the door
spilling under like oil and pray
a dark ghost come
untangle me from this
chord. I dream I watch
the prayer drip out
some sealed mouth
like water
escaping from a leak.
when you come
out of hiding
in that dark
I will name you
believe me.

these days
I look around and resign
to the fast death
of reason collapsing
everywhere and reckon
the only miracles to exist
are this water
at my lips, the doe
still hot like
the barrel of this gun
and the need
for the hunter
to be called.

NOTES

Sometimes we can’t find an answer, we don’t see a smoking gun: Blair Mase, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, in an interview at stagustine.com about the false killer whale stranding in the Florida Everglades in January, 2017.

Italics relating to suicide: written by French sociologist Émile Durkheim

If they are not bred during this time they recycle: publication titled “In a Rut—Breeding Season Behavior in Deer,” The Samuel Roberts Foundation, 1 November 2008. 

Caitlin Roach is a poet from California. She earned an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Provost Fellow and recipient of a Postgraduate Fellowship. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2017, Colorado Review, West Branch, Copper Nickel, The Journal, Prelude, Handsome, and The Iowa Review. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she is an assistant professor-in-residence. More information can be found at caitlinroach.com.

Image: Ernest Haskell, “Antlers,” Met Museum