Two Poems

Glaucopsyche xerces

“Xerces blue”

A Babylon above the dunes, dazzling
the sky to tiles in its spires of glasswork,
skeleton-steel—by its cells, the city 
also dreams of ordering an ocean 
to quell the all-dilapidating blue,
flatten, stanch it to a depthless silver
salt-air licks the face of, but cannot eat. 

Bright wings line the lepidopterist’s drawer,
opalescent in the light and silent: 
the twentieth century’s chrome-hard glint.            – 1941
All the brittle bodies, once collected,
of the country’s rarest extant species
might amount to three pounds, hardly deadweight—
after-shape held in the unburdened hand.

Still, aloft our many-mirrored empire
of erasures, above the crimson bridge,
some wingèd thing, fog-lost, is fluttering.

Hydrodamalis gigas

“Steller’s sea cow”

…often it was my wont to get milk in large quantities 
from dead ones in the same way as from cows. 

—Georg Wilhelm Steller, de Bestiis Marinis (1751)

Bark-skinned and buoyant as a rotten log,
the leviathan of Bering Island
was first hauled, wrenchingly, by shipwrecked men
to shore—who filleted and flayed its corpse        – 1742

upon the beach. Steller cut the details    
knife-wise: one black, prevaricating eye,
blinking in the sleep of which his own gleamed,
or seemed to, taken at any angle.

What remained of the hide inviolate
when the grim labor of the cudgels slowed 
and slackened to a pant, they peeled away—
scraps, fit only for belts and for boot-soles.

The creature’s rich, unspoiled fat, sun-softened
and rendered, burned smokelessly, was almost 
sweet-scented, though it tended to impart
certain haunted inflections to the light 

Steller wrote by, despoiling the body’s
hidden rooms, flesh-ensconced machineries,
the deep, arborescent architectures
of blood and sensation—de anima;

for, shooing seagulls from the days-dead thing,
he marked the lone and listless silhouette 
of a bull, like a felled tree, as it bobbed
along the rain-frothed shoal, holding vigil.

The descendants of this expedition
met with an isle of mysterious bones:            – c. 1820
relics to be collected and pedaled
at far harbors as mermaid ivory.

      Vest, not unselfishly, a devotion
      in this. That life might seek its quiet end,
      lapped at the leisure of the long-tailed sea,
      in use. Pick me over. Clean me out, Lord.



Nathan Manley

Nathan Manley is a writer and former teacher from Loveland, Colorado. He is the author of one chapbook, Numina Loci (2018, Mighty Rogue Press). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Think, Canary, Natural Bridge, Spillway, Plainsongs, Puerto del Sol and others. His work has also been nominated for Best of the Net. You can find his writing and instrumental music at nathanmmanley.com.