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  • No Ark
  • Nickole Brown (bio)

—for Mary Oliver

Ain't no foxes here, Mary. Ain't no grasshoppers restingin my picnic palm. Ain't too many creatures worth a poem

like yours, just mewling strays tucked under the dangerous warmthof a pickup's hood, just poodles with painted nails clicking

pink across mama's linoleum floor—so few animals left to this chain-storesprawl, this clocked-in, bottled, fluorescent-lit existence, even our air

conditioned, vents pointing down with a force fierce enough to keepa bouquet of daisies in full bloom for months.

No, no marsh hawks or wild geese neither. Maybe a pet-shopparakeet with her dried green sprinkle on carpet of no consequential

color, maybe a street robin bopping its dingy breast among the crushof lip-sticked filters and cans, maybe a sparrow, like the one who kept

pecking my window last spring, fighting who knows what, probably his ownreflection, and because we believe in wives' tales around here, mama said,

Be careful now, death's trying to get in your home.

But then again, once, I did see a moth—he was big, bigas a burger, super-sized as a side of fries, so big he covered the yellow letter P

in a homemade sign spray-painted on the asphaltof the manager's spot, not No Parking but kept simple: No Park. [End Page 162]

I was walking—no, Mary, not through the woodsor along any breezy shore—but across the lot to the discount store.

But the moth, Mary, the moth—half-dead, electricgreen—was unlike anything I'd ever seen. A luna, I was later told,

but back then I thought him a myth knocked out of the sky,a neon messenger sent to tell me that things were once different back

when Noah had plenty to gather before the storm, but now, here it was,plain as day, spelled out for all who cared to see: No ark,

as in, Ain't no use, not now, not anymore. As in,Let it rain and rain and rain. Ain't nothing left to save.

And because I'm not you—no, Mary, I couldn't be if I tried—he scaredthe shit out of me—four drowsy eyes eyeing from tattered

wings, feathered antenna tasting my hair-sprayed artifice, his limpthistle legs that stuck to my hands when I carried him to a safer place—

well, not safe, exactly, but at least a place where he would be takenby beak or tooth and not smashed by tires or stomped by some brat's shoes.

But what I want to say to you is this: I was frightened, but I once triedto save a thing about to die, tried to ease what was to come.

And the bag girl, mentally handicapped and happyjust to have her first job, followed me with her rattling train

of carts and her mouth of too-small teeth tendered ina swollen pit of gums. And when I set the winged thing in the grass

behind the dumpster, the girl, she threw that red mouth of herswide, laughing and laughing into that long line of empty

carts. I tell you, she knew. And I never knew empty carts to be sodamn empty. Never knew how much each resembles a cage.

This poem has appeared in the chapbook To Those Who Were Our First Gods (Rattle, 2019). [End Page 163]

Nickole Brown

nickole brown is the author of Sister and Fanny Says. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she volunteers at two different animal sanctuaries. To Those Who Were Our First Gods, a chapbook of poems about these animals, won the 2018 Rattle Prize, and her essay-in-poems, The Donkey Elegies, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2020.