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Blue Ridge Bestiary

ISSUE:  Spring 2004

1. Vulture

Business never slows for the air’s ubiquitous
morticians, their spiraling so effortless

we might admit its beauty, if we didn’t know
how eagerly, in those ridiculous black boas,

they wait to begin the endless dissipation
we take as proof: we’ve been forsaken,

unable to believe our angels of deliverance
rise even to the murky heaven of catfish.

2. Catfish

Greedy face of the zoot-suited villain
in a movie, sharpening his dagger-thin

moustache: sonsabitches I’d wish against
each time the bobber ducked and danced—

who swallowed all my best lures whole
and hissed, as with the crusted needle-nose

I ripped the hook and the hooked heart out
of a thousand, gasping cotton mouths.

3. Cottonmouth

The cure for life, said Socrates, is dying.
The cure for snakebite: slice your skin,

suck poison, then the guidebook says, breathe
easily as the viper glides through brittle leaves.

A pit in its face can see your thudding heart.
Its flicked tongue tastes you sweating in the dark.

And even the severed head strikes with venom,
as if death’s never dead, just playing possum.

4. Possum

Of all the corpses, none’s more easily forgotten
than those bellies strewn beside the road. Rotten

entrails flaking into the treads of tires,
dark shapes hunkered on the lowest wires

as the whole scene flares in that brief brightness
through which we hurtle past each oracle, oblivious

of what it means to see them suffer
and rise from ashes on the wings of vultures.


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