earthweal weekly challenge: ANIMAL POETRY


Late last year, when it looked like American democracy was falling apart and feeling helpless and aswarm (beyond voting, there was little I could do ), I took to my early morning walks like Mad Sweeney in the trees, repairing to the green sanity and its welcome. Grounding myself in the canopy of trees, my perspective changed; out from the venal chatterbox and at a humble height to a wisdom which spreads from deep roots to treetops up near the stars.


My dream hatched me
in a tree—not branched
but in its pith of trunk,
rings growing out from me,
roots dowsing with my feet.

I was growing where
poetry spreads its forest,
a gut-stringed lute
buried standing up
in a vast threnody—

half greenwood henge,
half psalm library.

Come sing with me

I strummed with leaf and bough
my voice the canopy
of a root rot trench
which hallows I in Thou.

December 2020

I wrote a lot of poems about this in the coming weeks. Most are collected in my self-published book The God In the Tree; my point here is that by carrying the trees’ message, the carrier was changed. Becoming a more rooted, greener and wilder creature, my poetry found its Ben Bolcain, that glade where Ireland’s lunatics of old found respite and repair.

Turns out I was wild all along. Here’s Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild:

Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo of looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet elements relaxing, staring, reflecting — all universal responses of this mammal body. They can be seen throughout the class. The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breather, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. Sensation and perception do not exactly come from the outside, and the unremitting thought and image-flow are not exactly outside.

The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than “you” can keep track of — thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream.

The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plans), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild. (17-18)

Here at earthweal we have devoted many challenge of late to the wild: the sacred wild (or green fire); wild mind; the wild dark. I’d like to take one league further into this wilderness and explore wild poetry or the poem as animal, our wild connection to the world.

Here are some examples:


May Swenson

Lie down upon your side
and fold your knees
end your hands at the wrist
against your chest
as a cat or dog does in repose

Close your eyes and feel
your brow smooth out
like a smallcloth in the wind
or a brook slipping
to a gentle waterfall

Now wait for what will happen
Something will

Beneath this hill of breathing hair
a steep mine
Within this ear
oracles of echoes seep
Wide and clear the eyelid’s dome
a galaxy where suns collide
and planets spin and moons begin

Words are birds perceived
in a secret forest
Fed by nerve and vein they hop
from twig to twig and up
an ivory ladder to the top
where it is light and they remain
and are believed


Rumi (transl. Coleman Barks)

This is how you change
when you go to the orchard
where the heart opens.

You become
fragrance and the light
that burning oil gives off,
long strands of grieving hair, lion
and at the same time, gazelle.

You’re walking alone without feet,
as river water does.
A taste of wine that is bitter and sweet,
seen and unseen, neither wet nor dry,
like Jesus reaching to touch.

A new road appears without desirous imagining,
inside God’s breath:
empty, where you quit saying
the name and there’s no distance,
no calling dove-coo.

A window, a wild rose at the field’s edge,
you’ll be me,
but don’t feel proud or happy.

Bend like the limb of a peach tree.
Tend those who need help.
Disappear three days with the moon.

Don’t pray to be healed, or look for evidence
of “some other world”:
You are the soul
and medicine for what wounds the soul.



Mary Oliver

I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them—I swear it!—

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

It is the fur of the poem which pelts us for rough nights and dangerous ways; ears and nose to read the night’s sound and scent semaphores; powerful legs for carrying us fast toward food or safety; a heart big enough to love no matter how much it hurts; and an ethical, equitable mind.  As Snyder writes, the animal body works in the animal mind; both are wild.  And the animal poem reckons with this changeful, dangerous and ever-sweet world with an intelligence greater than knowledge. Let’s give it a try.

For this challenge, write an animal poem, ensouled with the animal body in your animal mind. You can embrace the extra-human wherever it is found, in beast, fish, tree, land- or seascape or star canopy.


earthweal open link weekend #108


Greetings, and welcome to earthweal open link weekend #108. Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to comment.

Thanks to Sherry for her deeply felt “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” and for the in-kind response from the community. Deep currents here.

This open link forum is open until midnight Sunday EST, when the next weekly challenge rolls out.

Happy linking!