This stunning poem is by Noel Crook from her collection Salt Moon (SIU Press, 2015).
The Secret Lives of Animals
One chicken I have loved, bought with my own nickel
at the Feed and Grain when I was nine, taken from my arms
when he outgrew the wire cage beside my bed, stood tiptoe,
and opened the red flower of his throat
to the sun.
Three children I have raised to their season of breast-bud
and first shaves, and in the hothouse darkness of their rooms
their desires tendril into places
I cannot nurture.
Seven dogs I have loved, including the rescue with a taste
for his own shit, not least the childhood spaniel mix
who made quick work of my best hamster. And now this
small white terrier, bred to please, who shimmies with joy
when she greets me mornings, whose best friend is the gray
cat, half prince of sofa-shadow, half Jeffrey Dahmer,
that-- if the dog were smaller and the timing right--
might lick her heart.
And who am I to unlove the terrier for her descents
into the cat's basement workshop-- uncollared dark
from which she returns, tail wagging, bearing a crenulated,
meat-tipped wing or garnet-throated chipmunk head? Once,
at my oldest's age, I brought home to my mother
a necklace of hickeys, crimson as suns, each mouth-shaped
mark a talisman of want's slow burn, secreted in my mind
the look of the boy with freckles and red hair,
his lip pulled back to ugly snarl when I undid
the buttons on my dress.
At night, the young dog shimmers like a moth across the grass,
and, though invisible in shadow, I know the cat flits
in tandem, lets her flat-back him in the mulch, purrs ecstatic
when she mock-mauls his upturned gullet-- wild pantomime
of hungers I can and cannot fathom, while Here sweetling,
I call her. Here wilding. Come to mama.
Noel Crook is the author of Salt Moon (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry first book award, and the chapbook, Canyon (Red Dragonfly Press). Crook’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, New Letters, Shenandoah and other journals. She is the poetry editor for Sun Editions and lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.