Archives for posts with tag: animals

skunk 1
The Importance of Water
by Martin Willitts Jr

I carry water from the well in an old wooden bucket,
swinging loosely from a metal handle,
my face swimming on the water’s surface,
whooshing side to side
like I’m disagreeing with someone.
The slosh-spill water music ripples with light.

I hurry — not shilly-shally —
because grandmother is waiting up for me.

She needs me to fetch this water
to pour into her black kettle pot
from the American Revolution.

She places that huge pot
on the wood-burning Franklin pot-belly stove.

She will pour the near-hot water
on grandfather’s naked body in the wooden bathtub
because he was on the wrong side of a discussion
with a skunk, and stinks so bad,
God complains.

IMAGE: Skunk ceramic tile, available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Some of my poems could be considered memoirs, but I am also writing about a time period where some people still used well water, large pots in a fireplace, and wooden bath tubes. My Amish and Mennonite grandparents are a great source about that time period, farming the old way with hand plows, nature, sunrises and sunsets, working with animals, and their silent ways. They are also a great source for my more prayerful poems. This is one of my funny memories. I called it “close encounter with a skunk.” It reminds me that no matter how attentive we are to the land, the land has it own rules. Being ambushed by skunks is one of those hard-to-avoid rules.

Msrtin Willitts Jr

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Willitts Jr edits the Comstock Review. He has been nominated for 17 Pushcart and 14 Best of the Net awards. His awards include: Winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Award; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2015, Editor’s Choice; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, Artist’s Choice, 2016; Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, 2018; and Editor’s Choice, Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2020. His 25 chapbooks include the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections, including 2019 Blue Light Award The Temporary World.  His latest release is All Wars Are the Same War (FutureCycle Press, 2022). Find his books at

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What Shall I Say?
by Penny Harter

What shall I say to the two tiny fawns
grazing on soft grass along the roadside
until startled by my slowing car?

How can I follow them as they dart away
into a dense green cathedral? Although
they are old enough to be out here alone,

their mother is probably nearby, hidden
among thickets. Reading Bambi’s Mother
as a child, I cried, learning early the sudden

pain of virtual grief, though not yet the anguish
of real loss. If I could follow these fawns, I’d
tell them they are blessed to have been born,

blessed to be bound by a protected woods
bordering a seldom-traveled road, blessed
to join the family of deer.

Yesterday, some among the five distant deer
I saw together in a deer heaven—that endless
grassy lane bordered by another protected woods

out of some long-ago fairytale—knew when I had
stopped to view them, lifted their heads to stare
back at me until, sensing no danger, they resumed

peaceful grazing. Would we could be like those
deer—face what might harm us, then find within
ourselves a grassy lane where we can safely graze.

Previously published in the author’s collection Still-Water Days (Kelsay Books, 2021). 

PHOTO: Two fawns by EX2218.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: During the endless lockdown days of the pandemic, I took daily rides out along the country roads meandering through Atlantic County here in South Jersey. On many of these rides, I  encountered deer. I have always felt deer to be one of my spirit animals. This poem was a result of one such ride.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter lives in the southern New Jersey shore area. Her most recent collections are Still-Water Days  and A Prayer the Body Makes (Kelsay Books, 2021; 2020). A new collection, Keeping Time: Haibun for the Journey, is forthcoming in 2023 from Kelsay Books. Her work has appeared in Persimmon Tree, Rattle, Tiferet, and American Life in Poetry, as well as in many journals, anthologies, and earlier collections. An invited reader at the 2010 Dodge Festival, she has won fellowships and awards from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Dodge Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. To access her books and more, please visit

Raccoons in the Attic
by Ann E. Wallace

When Abby was four, or maybe five, she suggested
we create a raccoon sanctuary in the attic,

so raccoons on the street would know to come in
and be safe, but of course the raccoons on the street,

and in the garden, and on the cliff side, already knew
to shimmy up the side of the house, to the porch roof,

up the wall, past the second floor, squeeze through
an invisible fissure under the eaves, and find safety.

I think she knew this too and was simply asking me
to leave them alone.

Photo by Yannick Menard on Unsplash.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For many years, raccoons made a home in the attic of my narrow, three-story city home, finding their way in under the eaves, hissing and fighting with each other through the night, and shredding the heating system ductwork to make cozy beds for their kits. They were territorial and destructive, and as often as I would catch them and seal up any openings under the roofline, they would find their way back in. I often felt like Bill Murray in Caddy Shack as I futilely tried to keep the raccoons away, but my young daughter felt a keen sympathy for the animals nesting in the attic. Eventually they moved on from my house, and I now think back on my daughter’s tender concern with a smile.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ann E. Wallace, a poet and essayist from Jersey City, New Jersey, is author of the poetry collection Counting by Sevens (Main Street Rag). She has previously published work in Silver Birch Press, as well as Huffington Post, Wordgathering, Halfway Down the Stairs, Snapdragon, and many other journals. Follow her on Twitter @annwlace409 and Instagram @AnnWallace409, or read her work at In November 2022, the City Council of Jersey City, New Jersey, passed a resolution naming her the city’s Poet Laureate for 2023-2024.

by James Penha

I used to untangle the city vines strangling my mind
on a ship across the Strait to the jungles of Sumatra
where families of howling gibbons leaped from trees
to trees startling hornbills picking plump figs as I hoped
for the nest of orangutans, the trumpet of an elephant,
the roar of a tiger. Hard to hear now; hard to see now
that the ancient trees have burned to make room
for profitable plantations of oil palms that suck rivers,
lakes and my soul to dust for us to graze grocery aisles.

PHOTO: Orangutan in the Sumatran rainforest (March 27, 2016). Photo by Visions of Domino.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Sumatra is one of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia. Borneo and Sumatra are the only places on Earth where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants live together. In the last 35 years, Sumatra  has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest. Critically endangered species include the Sumatran ground cuckoo, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant, the Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Sumatran orangutan. Deforestation on the island has also resulted in serious seasonal smoke haze over neighboring countries, such as the 2013 Southeast Asian haze which caused considerable tensions between Indonesia and affected countries Malaysia and Singapore.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: What can we do to heal the jungles? Look for the RSPO label to ensure we purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. This label provides confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Find him on Twitter @JamesPenha.

wolf yellowstone
The Wolf Story
by Nancy Lubarsky

The Brothers Grimm killed the
wolves of Yellowstone. They
transformed the solemn beasts

into greedy and gluttonous predators.
The story-wolves, often in disguise,
knocked down houses, ate red-hooded

girls or boys who cried the same word
too many times. Soon explorers and
well-to-do headed west, with the

illustrated tales tucked in their vest
pockets, rifles across their shoulders.
They didn’t know that with each wolf kill,

more elk thrived, who then ate the mountain
willows that beavers used for dams. The
banks collapsed, the rivers warmed, fish

couldn’t survive. Eagles and other fowl flew.
Yellowstone was dry, lifeless, nothing but
scat and bones. Years later, another story.

Mist rises as our raft pushes through. We
part silent waters, pass snowy peaks. Eagles
return to their nests. Otters repopulate

abandoned beaver dams. Elk appear from
nowhere. Their soft eyes on alert. The
wolves have returned, camouflaged

in new growth that now reaches the
great mountains’ edges. They persist as
sentries in this tale of survival and repair.

PHOTO: A wolf rests in the snow at Yellowstone National Park (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I researched a lot about wolves before my visit to Yellowstone National Park. I was astonished to learn how simple fairy tales about fictional wolves misled educated people and, over time, had such a devastating, long-term impact on the ecosystem. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of many environmentalists, the gradual reintroduction of wolves has returned Yellowstone to its former beauty.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nancy Lubarsky writes from Cranford, New Jersey. An educator for over 35 years, she retired as a superintendent. Nancy has been published in various journals, including Exit 13, Lips, Tiferet, Poetic, Stillwater Review, and Paterson Literary Review. Nancy received honorable mention in the 2014 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards and again in 2016 and 2018. She is the author of two books—Tattoos (Finishing Line Press) and The Only Proof (Kelsay Books, a Division of Aldrich Press). Nancy received honorable mention from The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Contest (2018). She also has had three Pushcart Prize nominations.

coyote thomas hawk
I Am Not a Dog
by Mary O’Brien

I hear you early, morning,
when I am reading and trying
to write about the wildness so distant to me now.

I hear you trickster—chattering, signaling.
You have seized upon the avenue of encroachment
left by our retreat into urban lives.

Along the edge you travel,
You do not blink, but skulk,
your sacred manner Twain’s living allegory of Want.

If you are foraging an opening into our world,
prying an edge we think is seamed shut,
could you catch our long-tailed, big-toothed, shaggy marauders
venturing into your domain, when curbside bins are empty?

Soon you may be scarce again.
Through withdrawal or attrition,
your howl silenced, at our hand.

Telemetry is tracking you,
An ear tag guarantees your future.
Did you notice? You were not supposed to mind.

PHOTO: Coyote by Thomas Hawk.

obrien coyote
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: During the great pause, I thought frequently of the vacancy humans had left in the wilderness we are so fond of making into our playground. Were its wild inhabitants doing better without us? This poem was written in the early morning hours, when the air is still and all is quiet. I could hear the wildlife on the periphery of my neighborhood going about their business during the hours we humans usually sleep. Neighborhood dogs sleep too, unaware their territory is being invaded by their nocturnal kin. Native American legend, as well as the scientific name Canis latrans, tag Coyote as “barking dog.” But in the legend, Coyote, the Trickster, claps back: “I am not a dog.”

PHOTO: California Coyote by Mary O’Brien.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary O’Brien is an environmental writer and installation artist. Her writing evolves out of her engagement with place and community, and the research she develops for environmental art installations. Her nonfiction works delve into ecological loss and community resilience. O’Brien’s public art installations can be seen at Her essays have been published in Soren Lit, Field to Palette, Stanford University’s MAHB Journal; The Solutions Journal; and in Women’s Eco Artist Dialogue. Visit her on Facebook and Instagram.

Author photo by Daniel McCormick. 

longhorn cow
Longhorns and Snowdrops
by Jenny Bates

The soul is the same in all living creatures,
although the body of each is different. — Hippocrates

Snowdrops grow at the edge of a field next to Lancashire cows.
Horns descend from their faces, the curve drooping graceful as flower petals.
Weary host of tree branches wear ice, delicate as lacewings.
Fragile to breaking from a wren’s pish.
January ends, tells us to think again.
Resurrection never ends, even in an orgy of snow.
Now becomes meaningless mush,
afraid of nothing at all being familiar.
Falling on ice, mind eating worms wriggling through ears…
like a wild woodchuck trapped in a library,
I ruff up my fur —
rescue outraging me further.
What would happen if we realized black
wasn’t black at all, only dark green?
Iridescent as a Crow’s wing?
A ruthless thought that could change history
marches over ridges, across valleys, pressing close.
The wild, dark, beautiful, remote, secret words are
travel-thoughts by foot, because there are
no real roads.
How to heal the earth? I ask Hippocrates.
The cow munches near petaline
white spread.
Raises his head in hope.

PHOTO: Snorty by Jim Champion.

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I have lived in the Piedmont Foothills for 26 of my 39 years as a resident of North Carolina. I am locally known in Stokes County as an animal whisperer, especially to donkeys, coyotes and “Crow Folk.” My experience is full of friendships I would never have thought possible. Adjacent to Hanging Rock State Park, I myself have blurred the lines between what is tame and what is not. My surroundings for the most part are still and peaceful and timeless. The woods go on and on forever, you think, and there’s nobody in them but you. My poetry reflects all of this unique relationship I have to the area of land and the company of animals I keep. My poetry yearns and transfigures itself, like nature.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Bates is a member of Winston-Salem Writers. NC Poetry Society, and NC Writers Network. Her published books include Opening Doors: an equilog of poetry about Donkeys (Lulu Publishing, NC,  2010), Coyote with Coffee (Catbird on the Yadkin Press, NC 2014), Visitations (Hermit Feathers Press, NC 2019), and Slip, her new collection (Hermit Feathers Press, NC 2020).

cat by warhol 1976
Missing Gizmo
by Shelly Blankman

You disappeared into the darkness two years ago.
I don’t know why. People say you were only a cat
and that’s what cats do. But you weren’t just a cat.

Cats don’t shred calendars or stash eyeglasses under
a bed. The don’t steal pizza or chow mein from the plate
of their humans or drink from their straws, and they don’t hitch

rides on the hips of dogs six times their size. You’d greet me
each morning by leaping on my shoulder, slept by my side
whenever I was down, drew blood with your nips whenever

we played and then looked at me innocently like a child as
if to say, “What did I do?” when you knew. I’d just laugh, and
you knew I’d do that, too. You’d lick my tears dry and when

I was sick, you’d curl your body around my neck like a scarf,
and stay with me until I’d fall asleep to the lullaby of your purrs.
But you were sick. Almost from the time you rescued me.

Maybe at some point, you’d had enough of vets’ visits; I’ll
never know. We hired two search dogs to find you, posted
ads, knocked on doors, cruised neighborhoods. Nothing.

Still, I wait. Every time I leave the house. Each corner I turn,
each yard I pass, I look for you. Each bush that rustles I hope
it’s you — exhausted, starved, desperate to find your way home.

After two years, I am still waiting…

IMAGE: Cat by Andy Warhol (1976).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I saw the prompt for this submission, Jon’s and my cat, Gizmo, immediately came to mind. Of all the rescues we’ve ever had, Gizmo stands out as the worst in the best possible way. He was the Katzenjammer Kid of the Animal Kingdom, and our house hasn’t been the same since he ran off over two years ago. He probably didn’t last much longer after he escaped. He’d always been sick and no amount of excellent medical care seemed to make a difference for very long. I know he’s never coming back. Still, I wait.

PHOTO: The author and her beloved cat, Gizmo.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her husband of 40 years, three rescue cats, and a foster dog. They have two sons, Richard and Joshua, who are currently quarantined in New York and Texas, respectively. Shelly’s educational and career paths have followed public relations and journalism, but her first love has always been poetry. Her work has been published in such publications as New Verse News, Halfway Down The Stairs, and The Ekphrastic Review. Richard and Joshua recently published her first book of poetry, Pumpkinhead.

Of Want and Moonlight and Patience and Time
by Julia Klatt Singer

I shaped you out of clay,
set you on the brick patio, near the edge
so you would have grass to eat
when you came to life—
for who doesn’t start the world hungry?
And so too, that I could see you from
my bedroom window.

How many times did I wake
that night, look for my horse
in the moonlit backyard?

I was never afraid of the magic.
Was more afraid of how
I’d explain you to my parents and
to the neighbors, a lilac hedge away.

Dreamed you, your warm body
your soft eyes, the way you’d
nuzzle my hand, find something
good in it, good in me.

Come morning, you were still
the clay horse I had formed
small enough to hold in my hand
sitting on the brick patio, damp with dew.

It wasn’t until my first son was born
that I understood the magic—
forming something out of want
and moonlight and patience and time.

I am still waiting for you
my chestnut pony. Dream you
grazing in an open field, the sun
on your back, your unblinking gaze
as I feed you apple from my open hand.

PAINTING: Blue Horse I by Franz Marc (1911).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As I child I remember waiting for a number of things—holidays and birthdays, school to start and end, rides home, and sermons to finish. I have made peace with most of those, learned to let time enter me, the way I enter it—moment by moment. But I’m not sure I ever got over this dream horse.Was thoroughly convinced I could make a horse and make it mine. Give it a body. Give it moonlight. Want it like I wanted life; to spring forth because I could picture it, smell it, feel it. I shaped it out of clay. I could picture the horse it would become. Our backyard was small, but I’d ride it wherever it wanted to go. I could not have loved or wanted that horse more. And I felt the disappointment. The hard fact of my love and want not being enough, to make this horse real.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Klatt Singer is the poet-in-residence at Grace Nursery School. She is co-author of Twelve Branches: Stories from St. Paul (Coffee House Press), author of In the Dreamed of Places, (Naissance Press), A Tangled Path to HeavenUntranslatable, (North Star Press), and her most recent chapbook, Elemental (Prolific Press). Audio poems from Elemental are at OpenKim, as the element Sp.  She’s co-written numerous songs with composers Craig Carnahan, Jocelyn Hagen, and Tim Takach.

Creature Comforts
by Shelly Blankman

Dedicated to Dr. Barbara Feinstein and the staff of the Cat and Dog Hospital of Columbia, Maryland, and to all other animal caregivers who continue to work under difficult conditions to ensure that our pets stay healthy and safe.

Our calico cat curls in my lap, purrs softly
in sync with the engine of our car, now the
waiting room of the veterinarian’s office.

The glaring sun nearly blocks our windshield view
of masked vets and techs, their clothing wet with sweat,
rushing from car to car, lugging cages of sick cats,
cradling huge dogs, too sick to walk into the office,
now a barricade from a world too fragile for humanity.

Pan stirred, her hurt leg stiff. I kissed her soft fur,
whispered she would be fine, hoping she would be fine,
praying that in this pandemic world, worried owners
would not be waiting in their cars for empty cages, empty arms.
Doctors were hard to visit now. Receptionists were working
from home. Patients were seen by computer.
But veterinarians? They were there, the staff stripped of amenities,
layered with restrictions, always at the ready. No breaks, no backup.
They were there to help our Pan, our latest rescue,
in far worse pain than we’d realized, to diagnose her,
to be there for her and for so many other animals
in need of a healing, human touch.

These are the unsung heroes of the pandemic,
offering comfort to creatures who could not speak
the language of pain.

IMAGE: The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873).

blankman- prime mover Dr. Barbara Feinstein

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process differs from poem to poem, but is usually from personal experience. Animals are very close to my heart, and so when Pan was injured, it broke my heart. As often happens, the poem just evolved from my heart. The process from there was just a matter of mechanics.

PHOTO: Veterinarian Dr. Barbara Feinstein, Cat and Dog Hospital, of Columbia, Maryland.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shelly Blankman and her husband live in Columbia, Maryland, and have two sons, Richard, who lives in New York, and Joshua, who lives in Texas. She is also an at-home mom of three rescue cats—Stripe, Sheldon, and Pan (found during the pandemic), and a foster dog, Mia. Shelly followed a career path of journalism, public relations, and copy editing. Now she has returned to her first love, poetry. Richard and Joshua surprised her with a book of her poetry, Pumpkinhead, available on Amazon.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Pan is doing fine now! She has been  my greatest source of  comfort following a series of deaths during the pandemic. I think animals are incredible and so are the people who go beyond the call of duty to care for them.