Muscular Tuna, Palomino Stallion, & More | Poetry Corner

Four animal poems that grabbed my imagination from The Writer's Almanac. A few of my favorite lines:

  • (After muscular tuna) "My room is so still, the bureau lifeless, and on it, inert, the paraphernalia of humans: keys, coins, shells that once rocked in the tides ..." — Ode to the Fish
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  • "In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods, night was deep in silence."   — Sheep in the Winter Night
  • "They have been there since dawn, their boats side-by-side midriver, lines cast downstream into the edge of deep water, sipping coffee as light seeps through naked branches of ash and cottonwood."  — Sturgeon Season

Ode to the Fish

ELLEN BASS

Nights, when I can’t sleep, I listen to the sea lions
barking from the rocks off the lighthouse.
I look out the black window into the black night
and think about the fish stirring the ocean.
Muscular tuna, their lunge and thrash
churning the water to froth,
whipping up a squall, storm of hunger.
Herring cruising, river of silver in the sea,
wide as a lit city. And all the small breaths:
pulse of frilled jellyfish, thrust of squid,
frenzy of krill, transparent skin glowing
green with the glass shells of diatoms.
Billions swarming up the water column each night,
gliding down at dawn. They’re the greased motor
that powers the world, whirring
Mixmaster folding the planet’s batter.
Shipping heat to the Arctic, hauling cold
to the tropics, currents unspooling around the globe.
My room is so still, the bureau lifeless,
and on it, inert, the paraphernalia of humans:
keys, coins, shells that once rocked in the tides —
opalescent abalone, pearl earrings.
Only the clock’s sea green numerals
register their small changes. And shadows
the moon casts — fan of maple branches —
tick across the room. But beyond the cliffs
a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic
ladle scooping the icy depths. An artery so wide,
I could swim through into its thousand pound heart.

Sheep in the Winter Night

TOM HENNEN

Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought
of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian
religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.

The Palomino Stallion

ALDEN NOWLAN

Though the barn is so warm
that the oats in his manger,
the straw in his bed
seem to give off smoke—

though the wind is so cold,
the snow in the pasture
so deep he’d fall down
and freeze in an hour—

the eleven-month-old
palomino stallion
has gone almost crazy
fighting and pleading
to be let out.

Sturgeon Season

FLOYD SKLOOT 

They have been there since dawn,
their boats side-by-side midriver,
lines cast downstream into the edge
of deep water, sipping coffee as light
seeps through naked branches of ash
and cottonwood. Now from shadows
of limbs and swirling current a sea lion
slithers among their orange anchor
buoys and dives. The water,
already roiled brown and swollen
by rain, is so cold it seems to crack
when a cormorant skims the surface
before rising toward its island nest.