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Poems by Cleopatra Mathis

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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.

Reprinted with permission, from Book of Dog, 2013, Sarabande Books

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The ocean’s fickle, especially when it’s cold June
and the packrat bands of ducks and gulls,
all the worse for their nipping and wailing, force themselves
on trash and more trash the winter tides kept hoisting up.
No one said <em>enough</em>. No irritable something
spoke up, nothing wanted any answers,
even when the fishing line hung from the gull’s mouth
and the ribboned balloon wound itself tight
around the dead seal’s neck. But now for distraction
there’s all the hatching, the forward smell
of the roses’ thorny mounds cutting their way,
through the dunes. There is everything and nothing and why
shouldn’t you see yourself the same: incidental,
without privilege, hardly meant for even this.
Consider what is indestructible: the sand’s
glassy quartz, even the duller grains a semi-precious stone.
And the peppery specks? Iron, weighing it all down,
clinging as if to the bar of a magnet and buried
on the beach in beds. Think of it all
in motion, season to season, minute by minute, so that no one
who has been here, not one, occupies an actual place.

From Book of Dog ©2013 Cleopatra Mathis.
With permission of Sarabande Books. All rights reserved.

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