Back to Issue Thirty-Eight




It’s morning, and in my arms
another lamb is dying.

I’ve done this before.
Watched a horse, bloated

and belly-up, jerk its legs in its stall
before the vet came with her needle

to soothe it. But here,
this small shaking body

seems like a bigger death—
her short breath on my neck,

the stain of yellow-green shit
soaking the center of my shirt

from where her back legs press.
Maybe I’m making too much

of the way her eyes close
as she finishes the bottle of milk,

how her head falls against my chest
as if to say: I trust you

as much as one animal can trust another.
If love were ingestible, wouldn’t it

take the form of milk
warm from a mother’s teat?

This milk is from a goat, but the lamb
would never know, being the runt

of the litter, kicked away
by her own mother’s sharp hoof.

With what tangible vessel of love
can I nurse her?

And here I’ll admit that, in my head,
I’m already writing this poem—have already

arrived at the image of the shit
blooming on my shirt like a flower

or a patch of green lichen.
And I’ve looked at her throat and thought

about how I would cut it
if I had to, if her suffering

grew larger than what her body
could contain; have watched videos

on how to do it;
and now, holding her,

I picture bright droplets of blood
scattered on the pine chips below us,

and I know—I’m ashamed to say it—
that it would be beautiful.



Jessica Poli is the author of four chapbooks and co-editor of the collection More in Time: A Tribute to Ted Kooser (University of Nebraska Press, 2021). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Adroit Journal, and Redivider, among other places. She is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, founder and editor of Birdfeast, and Assistant Poetry Editor of Prairie Schooner.

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