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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 28, 2017.
About this Poem 

“'A Prayer to Talk to Animals' is an incantation that opens a forthcoming collection with its eye to animal sentience and behavior, and ultimately, it’s my attempt to give voice to what we’re bound to lose in the face of climate change and continued ecological devastation. I’ve been researching for this project for some time—reading every biology text I can but also volunteering at a farm sanctuary and a nature center, trying to get close to animals and observe them. Once finished, this project will result in a kind of a bestiary, I suppose, but it won’t consist of the kind of pastorals that always made me (and most of the working class folks I know) feel shut out of nature and the writing about it—these poems speak in a queer, Southern-trash-talking kind of way about nature beautiful, but damaged and dangerous.”
—Nickole Brown

A Prayer to Talk to Animals

Lord, I ain’t asking to be the Beastmaster
gym-ripped in a jungle loincloth
or a Doctor Dolittle or even the expensive vet
down the street, that stethoscoped redhead,
her diamond ring big as a Cracker Jack toy.
All I want is for you to help me flip
off this lightbox and its scroll of dread, to rip
a tiny tear between this world and that, a slit
in the veil, Lord, one of those old-fashioned peeping
keyholes through which I can press my dumb
lips and speak. If you will, Lord, make me the teeth
hot in the mouth of a raccoon scraping
the junk I scraped from last night’s plates,
make me the blue eye of that young crow cocked to
me—too selfish to even look up from the black
of my damn phone. Oh, forgive me, Lord,
how human I’ve become, busy clicking
what I like, busy pushing
my cuticles back and back to expose
all ten pale, useless moons.  Would you let me
tell your creatures how sorry
I am, let them know exactly
what we’ve done? Am I not an animal
too? If so, Lord, make me one again.
Give me back my dirty claws and blood-warm
horns, braid back those long-
frayed endings of every nerve tingling
with all I thought I had to do today.
Fork my tongue, Lord. There is a sorrow on the air
I taste but cannot name. I want to open
my mouth and know the exact
flavor of what’s to come, I want to open
my mouth and sound a language
that calls all language home.

Copyright © 2017 by Nickole Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Nickole Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown is the author of Fanny Says (BOA Editions, 2015).

by this poet

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So this is where the last year 
of the Mayan calendar begins—
5,000 birds falling on Beebe, 
Arkansas, a state that could smooth 
out with the sway of the plains 
but instead sputters the silence 
of the first syllable like a pothole 
that hits before you're off the 
on ramp—say it—
ar-    
           -can-
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Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
           but chose a scent—a signature—every day
                      you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
                                 notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
           who

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What people don’t know about my name
is that my grandmother gave me that “k”
                       —my very own unexpected
consonant—
                       those two strong arms and two strong legs,
that broom-handle spine—
                       that letter about no one with a name