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When the Animals Leave this Place

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Underneath ice caps, once glacial peaks
deer, elk, vixen begin to ascend.
Free creatures camouflaged as
waves and waves receding far

from plains pulling

upward slopes and faraway snow dusted mountains.
On spotted and clear cut hills robbed of fir,
high above wheat tapestried valleys, flood plains
up where headwaters reside.

Droplets pound, listen.

Hoofed and pawed mammals
pawing and hoofing themselves up, up.
Along rivers dammed by chocolate beavers,
trailed by salamanders—mud puppies.

Plunging through currents,
          above concrete and steel man-made barriers

these populations of plains, prairies, forests flee
in such frenzy, popping splash dance,
pillaging cattail zones, lashing lily pads—
the breath of life in muddy ponds, still lakes.

Liquid beads slide on windshield glass

along cracked and shattered pane,
spider-like with webs and prisms.
“Look, there, the rainbow
touched the ground both ends down!”

Full arch seven colors showered, heed
what Indigenous know, why long ago,
they said no one belongs here, surrounding them,
that this land was meant to be wet with waters of nearby
not fertile to crops and domestic graze.

The old ones said,

“When the animals leave this place
the waters will come again.
This power is beyond the strength of man.
The river will return with its greatest force.”

No one can stop her.
          She was meant to be this way.
                         Snakes in honor, do not intrude.

The rainbow tied with red and green like
that on petal rose, though only momentarily.
Colors disappear like print photographs fade.
They mix with charcoal surrounding.

A flurry of fowl follow

like strands, maidenhair falls,
from blackened clouds above
swarming inward
covering the basin and raising sky.

Darkness hangs over

the hills appear as black water crests,
blackness varying shades.
The sun is somewhere farther than the farthest ridge .
Main gravel crossroads and back back roads

slicken to mud, clay.
          Turtles creep along rising banks, snapping jowls.

Frogs chug throaty songs.
The frogs only part of immense choir
heralding the downpour, the falling oceans.
Over the train trestle, suspension bridge with

current so slick everything slides off in sheets.

Among rotten stumps in black bass ponds,
somewhere catfish reel in fins and crawl,
walking whiskers to higher waters.
Waters above, below

the choir calling it forth.

Brightly plumed jays and dull brown-headed cowbirds
fly as if hung in one place like pinwheels.
They dance toward the rain crest,
the approaching storm

beckoning, inviting, summoning.

A single sparrow sings the stroke of rain
past the strength of sunlight.
The frog chorus sings refrain,
melody drumming thunder,

evoked by beasts and water creatures wanting their homes.
Wanting to return to clearings and streams where ash, or
white birch woods rise,    tower over,
quaking aspen stand against
storm shown veils—sheeting rains crossing

pasture, meadow, hills, mountain.
Sounds erupt.
Gathering clouds converge, push,
pull, push, pull forcing lightning

back and forth shaping
windy, sculptured swans, mallard ducks, and giants
from stratocumulus media.
As if they are a living cloud chamber,
As if they exist only in the heavens.

Air swells with dampness.
          It has begun.
Madison Poet Laureate, writer, editor, activist and humanist
Why I chose this poem: 

I studied Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s work during my MFA at IAIA. I focused on her work in my thesis. She too went to IAIA. Now I am FaceBook friends with her, and follow her posts. I was thrilled when I saw her friend request! I love her poetry and someday may share my thesis with her where I explore her technique and use of caesuras in her book, Dog Road Woman. Despite being the Madison Poet Laureate and used to speaking publicly and reading my poems, I am still a shy girl from the Midwest, and especially so when I meet literary giants.

Angie Trudell Vasquez (Mexican-American 2nd & 3rd generation Iowan) holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been published in Taos Journal of PoetryYellow Medicine Review, Raven ChroniclesThe RumpusCloudthroat, and the South Florida Poetry Journal. She has poems on the Poetry Foundation’s website, and was a Ruth Lilly fellow as an undergraduate at Drake University. Her third collection of poetry, In Light, Always Light, was released by Finishing Line Press in May 2019. She co-guest edited the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. She serves on the Wisconsin State Poet Laureate Commission, and currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. On January 20, 2020 she became Madison’s newest Poet Laureate.

Blood Run