Volume 22, Number 4

Birds and Beasts; or, A Response to a Review of the Best American Poetry Series in which the Critic argues that “American Poets Have Taken a Hands-Off Approach to Every Disturbing Reality, Retreating into Their Academic Shells to Produce a Poetry that is Uniformly Escapist”

Man is not much beside the birds and beasts.

Should I write about the eight-inch crayfish
we saw this morning
crawling across the road between
two cornfields here in central Indiana
in the middle of the winter, its oversized claws
opening and closing to ward us off
while more than 35 million people
in the United States alone
went hungry this year?
How could I not?

Or the turkey vultures
that swooped down around us
and up to perch on a bare branch
of a sycamore.
Never again, we said
about the Holocaust;
what about Rwanda, Darfur?
The dog was going crazy. She didn’t know
whether to snatch one out of the air
or take off running.

Or the dry shell of a cicada
my daughter put in a clear container
with a leaf and a bottle cap of water.
Her entire life has been lived
in war time. What will I tell her
when she asks how in God’s name
we let it happen?
“It’s having a baby!” she told me,
as a maggot crawled out of its body.

Or the fish
left in the mud
after the flooded river receded,
barely alive, but alive, its mouth
closing and opening
while Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar,
130,000 people dead or missing,
and the junta denied aid from any foreign country.
She decided to save it by picking it up by the tail
and giving it back to the river.

—Norman Minnick