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  • Stone Arabia, and: A Servant's Prayer, and: Sand Shark, and: Opening the Hive, and: Prayer for a Journey by Sea, and: Cat Lying in the Grass
  • Mark Wunderlich (bio)
  • Stone Arabia
  • Mark Wunderlich (bio)

    The horses bisect the fieldpull the cutting plow,    guided burden, churning        a soil-fold, wave of earth            turned up

    for the gulls to pick; theyfollow the farmer, cut the    April air with hollow-boned wings        scurrying beetles,            grubs and red worms                the wages

    for following the plow's wake.The field turns from tan and    green-flecked        to uniform brown,            lowliest color on the wheel

    offset by a fencerowwhere the wren's syrinx bursts    with the air-blast        of a tiny lung—wind thimble            muscle-trill—warbling with                the sexual urge to build.

    Black cows punctuatethe green page of pasture,    move in cued diagrams,        knee-deep in spring-flush            mouths bent to grass, growing                the soft bones of fetal calves                    on alfalfa, white clover [End Page 167]

    which they pullfrom the fallow field        while the whiff           of their sweet-smelling shit                is wound in the spool                    of this sentence. [End Page 168]

Mark Wunderlich

"Two of the poems here are in the form of prayers. A couple of years ago, while visiting my family in Wisconsin, I came across an old Lutheran prayer book, written in German and published in St. Louis in 1876. The book was small, meant to be carried in a pocket or reticule and consulted during times of need. The prayers are notably specific: prayer to be said before setting off on a journey by sea, prayer to be said in the first hour of a deathbed watch, prayer for a birthday, prayer to be said during a time of drought. I found these pleas addressing mostly harrowing circumstances to be psychologically compelling. By begging for the attention of an all-knowing, distant father, they seemed to me an interesting model for poems, but quickly my own versions took on new and contemporary contexts.

"I began writing these poems some time ago and resisted showing them to anyone or sending them out to journals. I felt embarrassed to be writing poems with religious underpinnings, and, as a queer agnostic, I felt exposed. Of all the poems I have written, these—mostly devoid of autobiographical detail—are the most personal.

The other poems here have animals as their subjects. Having grown up on a farm and having been around various domestic and wild animals my whole life, I developed a particular aversion to the sentimentalization of animal life and the morally specious mistake of equating animal deaths with those of humans. The relationship between domestic animal species and humans is long, complex, intertwined. They are, quite literally, a part of our biological makeup, and we owe our survival as a species to them—and they owe theirs to us. The poems are my way of thinking about some of these complexities."

Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), which received the Lambda Literary Award; Voluntary Servitude (Graywolf Press, 2004); and The Earth Avails, forthcoming from Graywolf in 2013. He has received fellowships from the NEA, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship Program, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Amy Lowell Trust. His work has appeared in numerous journals, and his poems have been widely anthologized. He is a member of the Literature and Writing Seminars Faculty at Bennington College in Vermont and lives in the Hudson River Valley.

Photo by Nicholas Kahn

  • A Servant's Prayer
  • Mark Wunderlich (bio)

Oh Tenderhearted, O Kindhearted,you who have spared us from eternal servitude,

by torturing and killing your only child,we know what you can do.

Only you can spare usfrom a world in which the Creature

presses his stinking hoof to our neck,the tyrant who supervises a petty bureaucracy

rich with oil and other filth, covers his sow-bride'sfat Bahama-tanned paw with a crust of diamonds.

You have chosen to keep me in a stateof service, beholden to a mustachioed czarina

isolated and confused and grandiose,which is, I confess, a...


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