Three Poems

by Catherine Carter Issue: Fall 2017 Special Issue on Extinction

Copperheads in Heaven

Someone I loved used to kill
copperheads with a shovel’s
sharp blade, the same old fear,
the same old waste.
But if the copperheads are anywhere
now, he is there too.
If I thought of heaven
I would think of a place
where there is a place
for everything.  Everything
driven from here would end
there, no matter who
killed whom:  sanctuary.

In heaven, then, perhaps
the soft sky flashes,
riven with passenger pigeons;
and heaven’s creeks flicker
with Maryland darters and foam
with the spawning shad;
and in the south of heaven
Taino is spoken aloud
in an afternoon rain;
and maybe he, nearly
young again now,
lifts his broad-eared head  
to a flight of Carolina parakeets
as he sits on the dock he built,
and the copperheads sleep
by his feet on the windworn boards
in the tender autumn sun.

Crow Cosmogony

The day we made the world, scattered
shattered sand across the deep
steeps and hollows of the sea,
we were playing with chance,
a stance few other gods admired.
We retired then from creation and let things
sing as they would, go
to whatever end luck called good.
We could, and did, breathe in a platypus here,
a shearwater there—evolution
our solution to dogma and fate,
the weight of always being in charge
of stars, shoals, plague, all that—
but by and large, we let go, let
sweat and thought fall away,
stray like questing possums
or blossoms of blown snow.  
So it was.  We didn’t worry how
our sowing would grow.  We went back
to hacking with our thick
black bills at death and waste, harrying
carrion, even as the dead
bled ever more numerous over the new
true-straight stone roads, here
where we shaped the bright turns
and returns of the world, invited
night in: but do that, and you get
what you get.  Despised
as flies, we pick through pale grass
for carcasses gone flat and dry;
we rise under your very wheels
from meals scant and cold, bring
strings of gut back to our young.  But so
goes the world, when you let it go,
throw yourself in its rolling motion, chance
chance:  we live on broken squirrels
in the world we made this way.

The Rapture

It counts as rapture only if it’s quick, only
if it's not ours.  Dead streams, choked children,
lesions, worms, even that skyflash
the blind could see, that’s just more
of the same.  No:  I want a meteor,
a big one, rupturing earth out of its crust
like a baseball. Maybe a comet,
skipping its blazing tail over endless rivers
of rubble.   Maybe a solar flare,
returning the sewers and streets,
power plants and phones and pheromones
to starry atoms, a crackle and a glare like,
guess what, the end of the world.  
And I need it to have been coming
almost forever, to have begun
its trip when Lucy Australopithicus
bashed stones with stones.  Then what
if we sewered and dammed the creeks, bred
and abandoned ten million dogs
or three billion people, flogged
kids for chocolate bars, hung out
our warriors like polyester laundry, then what
about Bachman’s sparrow and the passenger
pigeon?  No saving any of them,
no matter what we did. And, too, no more dolphins
in cages, dams locking salmon
into salt, bonecold cells with pincers and drowning
buckets, streets swallowing creeks,
the whole torturestory
forgotten forever, and if water
and warmth go too, bugleweeds and holding
hands and all the coruscating
words, well.  Still.  Then
it wouldn’t be so bad; then we
wouldn’t be so bad.  We could open
our arms to the scorching hail, amputated
free like a gangrenous hand, absolved,
as if the universe shrugged, whatever, 
game over, you’re forgiven
already!  It could be close as we get
to believing in heaven again, our scripture of fire
and forgiveness, it could be (almost) rapture.

Catherine Carter

Catherine Carter’s collections of poetry include The Swamp Monster at Home (LSU, 2012), The Memory of Gills (LSU, 2006), and Marks of the Witch (Jacar Press, 2014.) Her work has also appeared in Best American Poetry 2009, Orion, Poetry, and Ploughshares, among others.  She lives in Cullowhee with her husband and teaches in the English Education program at Western Carolina University.