Voices: Jennifer Browne

Strays

Blending bowls of kibble, of fish and rice,
a man feeds lean street dogs
that slink to their appointed heaps.
Stronger, now, and nourished, they’ll
soon fatten with inevitable pups.

Where you’re concerned, my plate
will never be my own, but each
of us, some days, is wary, baring canines.
On other days, we walk away,
bandages around our bitten hands.

Stable Hand

Excluding the rooster and hen,
the animals in the Fisher Price barn
were not paired by gender.
You could tell the rooster by his comb,
but the hen wore no blush;
hens don’t.

The practical lashes of the black horse
were neither long nor sultry,
not the smoky cat eyes that stare surely
from the cellulose pens of My Little Pony.

Those ponies, too, used to be chubby,
with friendly, rounded faces
and friendly, rounded rumps,
their diet all sprinkles and happiness,
but like Strawberry Shortcake,
like Holly Hobbie and the Care Bears,
they’ve had a little work done. Now they’re leggy and slinky
and lean, sexy ponies
sold to girls age 3 and up.

Easter Island

Prior to their vanishing,
the Easter Islanders
decimated what
lay before them,
drove themselves to ruin
and, eventually,
to cannibalism.
We eat,
we alter,
we turn on each other.
So, too, for introduced species:
what there is to eat is devoured,
the other species adapt or die.

Surprised, researchers in the Yukon
observed red squirrels
killing and feeding
on tender young hares.
On my morning walk,
a grey squirrel,
inattentive to oncoming cars,
hunched, flag-tailed,
gorging on a chocolate bunny
that had fallen on the street.

The bunny mutely
regarded its consumption
with one staring candy eye.

Benediction

“But by a strong effort of will I had no tears.”
St. Augustine of Hippo

The zoo’s mother sloth bear
ate her stillborn cub
and his living sibling,
whose silent parasites
she may have sensed,
in her neglected third cub.

Rising to the window,
I think of St. Monica, patron
of disappointing children,
who wept for her wayward
pagan of a prodigal, St. Augustine.

A mother makes her choices.
In grief, she gnashes, fasts,
or she preens in the sunny grass
while her nest of chicks pecks
the weakest to downy pulp.

Pray for the cubs, the chicks,
for Monica and Augustine,
for my mother, for my child
for those who wish for children,
and for those who sigh with relief
at the month’s first smears of blood.

Jennifer Browne lives with caffeine addiction, importunate curiosity, and an intermittent stutter in Frostburg, MD, where she is the Director of the Frostburg Center for Literary Arts and a Lecturer in English at Frostburg State University.

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