Types of Animals

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after Borges

some by branching   by bivalve   by colony   by loping   by leaping
some disguised in waiting   in watching   by blending in motion
some in color   in welcome   whose wealth   was seduction
some drinking tears   eating dirt   wearing sky on their backs
some belonged to an emperor   hive   tribe   lived alone
some escaped by stampede   by flocking   by stealth   or by potion
some were shot   some were slaughtered trapped stamped
wrapped round wrists   waists   shoulders   feet
some tarried too long   claimed by bounty   by warrant   by border
by deed   by the armaments of language
some are smuggled   suffocated   separated
whose night   is flight   is howling   is barefoot
whose stable   is dirt   whose rock
is courtesy   whose weather   is warning
whose retreat   is no refuge   whose fortune is ashes
whose return   is despair   whose
demise will be    dutifully reported

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Click here to read Wendy Drexler on the origin of the poem.

 

 

Image: “Animal heads” by Colin Davis, licensed under CC 2.0.

Wendy Drexler:
I wrote “Types of Animals” close to midnight on the last night of a Carl Phillips workshop last August at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Carl’s prompt was to write a poem with no punctuation except white space and to use a plural point of view. Desperate for inspiration, I opened a book I’d bought earlier that week: artist, printmaker, and cartographer Mark Adams’ Expedition. Thumbing through, I randomly turned to “Types of animals,” an odd list poem that included, in bulleted form, such entries as “Those that belong to the emperor,” which I appropriated for my poem; “Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush;” “Those that, at a distance, resemble flies;” and “Mermaids (or Sirens).” The note under the list states, “Borges claims that the list was discovered in its Chinese source by the translator Franz Kuhn.” The irreverence and playfulness of Borges’s categories opened a frenzied channel of words driven mostly by sound and meter. Much of the poem tumbled out, except for the ending, which I struggled over. When I read about each new diminishment of species, each poached elephant, each new wave of migrating warblers falling dead from the sky for lack of available insects to fuel their journey, each new extinction, each new greedy appropriation of resources, the dutiful reporting is essential but can sometimes deaden me to the losses (maybe because they seem so overwhelming), and I just want to scream.

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