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Milk
by Penelope Moffet

life itself — not human life — is the ultimate miracle upon this earth
— Farley Mowat, A Whale for the Killing

If I were
the size of
a moth
I’d live
in the leaves
of the hornless
woolly milkweed.
White fur
all around me,
the pendulous
complex
open-starred
pomegranate
breasts
of flowers
overhead
holding
nectar to be drunk,
pollen to be carried
for the birth
of seedlings.
In the season of milk,
the time
of leaves’
easily released
sticky juice,
I’d thrive.

Too small
to be seen
by men with rifles
who spill from cities
to hunt
slim deer
up canyons,
who would
gun down
a whale
caught
in a saltwater pond
linked to the sea
by channel
deep enough for passage
only
when full moon
high tide
collude
with storm.
Too small
to be one
of those men

In the hills
I love
bees
suck nectar
from the hearts
of flowers—
phacelia, poppy,
white sage,
mustard—
and make
something
sweeter.
Deep
in the throat
of bindweed’s
cream trumpet
a bee caresses
each pistil
with all
his feet,
flies
to the next cup.
What he takes
he repays

The world’s
a stomach
constantly
eating and
excreting and
there are
no gentle
creatures
but
only
we
spread
what can’t
return.

I don’t want
to be a
hawk
like Jeffers
solitary
on his
craggy coast

just
sometimes
something
mild enough
to creep
among
the deep-veined
milkweed leaves

bleeding
only
what I need.

First published, in slightly different form, in Keeping Still (Dorland Mountain Arts, 1995).

PAINTING: Butterflies by Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem in the early 1990s, on one of my writing retreats at Dorland Mountain Arts, a creative community near Temecula, CA. I had just read Farley Mowat’s brilliant, beautiful and infuriating book, A Whale for the Killing, the story of a Fin Whale that became trapped in a cove on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, where it was first marveled at and then tortured by the local humans. That book had the effect of making me want to leave my species and become something else. But we can’t leave our species. We have to try to make our relationship with the world better.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penelope Moffet is the author of It Isn’t That They Mean to Kill You (Arroyo Seco Press, 2018) and Keeping Still (Dorland Mountain Arts, 1995).  Her poems have been published in Gleam, One, Natural Bridge, Permafrost, Pearl, The Rise Up Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, The Missouri Review, and other literary journals, as well as in several anthologies, including What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest (University of Texas Press, 2007), Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles (Tia Chucha Press, 2016), Floored (Kingly Street Press, 2020) and California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology (Story Street Press, 2020).