Cleopatra Mathis Poet and Creative Fiction Professor Dartmouth College
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Recent Poems ~

Of recent poems from Book of Dog, “Canis” was included in Best American Poetry 2009, originally published in Provincetown Arts.

Canis

It was a small comment, wasn’t it, about who they were
— that last year on the dunes when all the town talk
was of coyotes, prairie wolf in search of an ocean,

those footprints instead of rabbits surrounding the shack
or half-sunk in the cranberry bog
just off the path. They heard the howling somewhere

behind their backs as they walked out past midnight,
singing at the top of their lungs:
abandon me, oh careless love-- although they knew

the coyotes knew exactly where they were. No surprise
to either of them when they wailed unusually close
and loud on a moonless night after an argument,

this time a mean one about the dogs. For God’s sake,
the dogs, how much trouble they were to him,
their feeding and whining and constant

need to go out, no matter how wet or cold. And so on
till silence set itself between them, holding stiff
as each turned away to bed. But the coyotes just outside

started up their merciless lament, as if
the entire genus called them, had bound the tribe together
in protest for their brothers. Hours they heard the keening,

both of them sleepless, that rising, falling
complaint in their ears-- until he couldn’t bear it, he said
I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore, and she in a rush

of understanding the exact suffering fit of it, jumped up
and closed the offending one window’s
half-inch crack, and just like that

in the dead center of a moan, the coyotes
stopped their noise; what I mean to say is
the wind stopped making that heartbroken sound.

 

From The Georgia Review, Spring 2009-

Survival: A Guide

It’s not easy living here, waiting to be charmed
by the first little scribble of green. Even in May
the crows want to own the place, and the heron, old bent thing,
spends hours looking like graying bark,
part of a dead trunk lying over opaque water.
She strikes the pose so long I begin to think
she’s determined to make herself into something ordinary.
The small lakes continue their slide into bog and muck—
remember when they ran clear, an invisible spring
renewing the water? But the ducks stay longer, amusing
ruffle and chatter. I can be distracted.

If I do catch her move, the heron appears
to have no particular fear or hunger, her gaunt body
hinged haphazardly, a few gears unlocking
one wing, then another. More than a generation here
and every year more drab.
Once I called her blue heron, as in Great Blue,
true to a book— part myth, part childhood’s color.
Older now, I see her plain: a mere surviving
against a weedy bank with fox dens
and the ruthless, overhead patrol.
Some blind clockwork keeps her going.



From BigCityLit.com, 2009-

Ants Want My Dead Yellow Moth

The one that came to me out of the sea, perfect
serrated edges of its six wings,
each seamless with tiny yellow feathers,
the two bright center ones with black eyes
to do the work of camouflage. Even drowned,
the wings held tight, a simple knot at the top
attaching them to the black worm of the body.
What fragile stitchery the tide held up,
carrying it in on a wave. I took it to my desk,
arranged it so as to see the colors as they dried,
the veins rising, shuddering with my breath.

But now, this ant— so little I worry
about the number that could cover the small body—
by some trickery has found its way
under my immaculate shack and climbed the pilings,
through gaps in the floorboards to one leg
of my writing table, and up that to the surface
plane of three cracked boards, where it scurried
to the moth: my creature.
Pulled from the sea with my own hands—mine, I thought,
believing my will could preserve it.