Robert Aquinas McNally is the author or coauthor of nine books of nonfiction, with a tenth in the works, and the author of four poetry chapbooks and the full-length collection Simply to Know Its Name, which won the Grayson Books Poetry Prize in 2014 and was published by Grayson Books. this past April. His poems have appeared in a long list of anthologies and journals, including Ecotone, Spillway, Snowy Egret, Quiddity, RiverSedge, Blueline, Minnetonka Review, Sanskrit Literary Arts Magazine, Soundings East, and Runes. Five times his poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Western Writers of America, McNally has also written news, features, and essays about the wild, particularly in the American West. He wanders, wonders, and writes in Northern California.
All night the wind pounded tribal drums,
beat against windows and roofs, roused
Lake Erie into dancing ranks of water.
When morning arrived — bright, domesticated —
I walked the pier, found it cobbled
with clams tossed up by the thousands.
Blue-black, glistening, they opened
a blade’s width as they died, offering
slim insight into the soft wet
within. Over them hung
this smell, unseasoned and raw,
the scent of secrets that live
under our eyes and noses
until a wild music draws them out.
(Urocyon cinereoargenteus » dog with the ash-silver tail)
west of Oregon Mountain, northern California
She came like a lover, body stretched straight
from shining onyx nose to black tail-tip,
a silver arrow in flight, and as silent,
until she sang out that cry with something
of the panther in it, of the woman
whose throat opens when she peaks and thrashes.
Vixens use these notes, they say, to broadcast
their desire for mate, coupling, fertile den,
yet this song, and the fox’s slow circle
of the campfire, turned on roast meat dripping
into gray coals, raising sweet smoke. Listen
to what she was singing: love and hunger
rise from one root, this yearning to savor
the scent, tongue the juice, and fill the empty.
(Chen caerulescens » white goose shading into sky-blue)
Mackenzie Delta, arctic Canada
Every day becomes passage, arrival
just an invitation to departure.
Come dark, come cold, the last mosquitoes gone,
she leaves tundra behind, heads south toward
the shaved ricelands of the Sacramento.
She obeys this rhythm scribed in brain, bones,
and blue breast despite dangers gathering
along the long in-between: flesh-hungry
foxes and wolves, tule-hidden gunners
with eager dogs, stone mountains honed by ice.
It is impossible, so she does it
again, rising off the pond and climbing
the wind with the flock, honking her secret
name to wingmates she has loved since the egg.
The osprey flew into first light over the high lake to land on a whitebark snag, to watch, to wear patience like its shingled cloak of black plumes until, seeing secrets, it spiraled up, folded long wings, pointed talons, stooped into small wind-waves so clear, so cold. For a moment the bird teetered on the joint of water and air, then rose with the labor of the newly laden: trout fast, dying, silver yet, dark-speckled on pink. Perched, predator pinned kill against bare wood, hooked beak into flesh, stripped off long, gauzy sheets. Soon only the spine remained, deep dish of skull, the opened, emptied sack of skin, shining, spectral until the time when the hawk struck, speared flesh, flapped hard, and hard again, yet could not lift the fish fighting beneath, diving against that urgent rise. The two tugged and pulled, back and forth, a sway of hunter and hunted, until osprey unhooked, raised but its own weight, circled back to snag, while the trout dove, trailing cool blood, bearing deep down the fierce marks of heaven.