As a Newt, I Found Summer to be Disastrous
The condition of my skin determines the condition of my health.
When my colony and I perceived the margin of our pond
drawing an ever-smaller circle on its clay beach
we decided to crawl out to seek bigger waters
and failing that, have a worthy adventure before desiccation.
It is in my nature to hang stilly in warm still shallows of a silty pond,
to meditate on the nature and meaning of immortality,
to brush shoulders with other newts,
to draw in insects and algae with a slight slow
opening and shutting of my mouth,
to sift oxygen from water with the slowest fanning
of my external lungs.
Instead, I stepped out, tiptoed for many days and nights
across wire sharp sand and ticking grass
trying to keep my tender belly clear. My palms calloused.
I sheltered from sun beneath the shadows of stones,
singing whenever I could a song for rain.
I thus arrived at your door to ask for a dish of water
before tip-toing on across your asphalt drive.
I remember helping to lead an equity retreat in Taos NM some late Augusts ago. After a session, I swept up a number of these small dry bodies from the corners of our meeting room. I learned from Galen that newts often have to travel when their vernal ponds dry up. When I found some living newts in the kitchen, I sketched the small dark creatures and journaled about them and this poem developed. It was a sad time. I did return them to their nearby pond, an intervention I’m not sure was a good one. The moment foresaw global warming and today’s reports on the deaths of salmon. The grammar of animacy (see Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass) in poetry–and in many children’s books–comes naturally when we empathetically don the persona of others unlike us. If in Potawatomi even the wind is alive, it also was in the language of Christina Rossetti who wrote “Who Has Seen the Wind,” in which the trees bow down their heads when she passes. We might dismiss this as personification, but in English, it is how we do adopt languages of animacy.