A Prayer to Talk to Animals

Nickole Brown

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.

More by Nickole Brown

Black bird, red wing

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-saw—
ending with that blade 
of rusted teeth to chew 
through the last of what's left 
of those woods, a fast-driving 
diesel flatbed of felled trees 
and all of us in a tight spot 
between that chugging machine 
and the concrete barrier 
as we hope the straight back 
of our consonants will 
hold, even if they are quiescent 
monsters, reticent prayers, 
because we can't help it, we lean 
towards letters that do not bend, 
try our exhausted weight 
on the middle of that state, 
that silent K—the shape of a man 
trying to hold up the ceiling, 
trying not to think 
of its falling 
as the sky's.

For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell

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 used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
                      husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
                                 the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
           a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
                      that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
                                 now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
           was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
                      of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
                                 mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
           of your ghost lingered hours after you
                      were gone, and last month, I stalked
                                 a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
           my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
                      How can manufactured particles carry you
                                 through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
           stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
           trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
                      I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
                                 worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
           I would have pressed my face to her small
                      shoulder, and with the sheer work of
                                 two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
           conjure
                      you back
                                 to me.

Fanny Linguistics: Nickole

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
same as mine has.

A mis-
           spelling, really—
                      the same botched phonetics of all her
girls’ names,
           misspelled but fancy

as chandeliers—Latonna Lee, Candies La Rayne, Lesi Annett 
            —names that know never to drink
            lemon water from a silver fingerbowl

but names that can be bobbed with a “y”
            and cheerlead.

Now, she called me Koey, so don’t expect me to respond
to the first nasal tone of my name
            but the harsher           cough 

that follows, that typo tambourined
from the back of the throat. I’ll answer to cold & coal & coke
    sometimes 

            even hear that sound as a scoop of coco, something dry

from the tin, but warmed with a little sugar and milk, a name
    snowing
            while it’s safe inside.

Related Poems

Foreclosing on That Peril

I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City