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Ornate Beast by Claire Hamner Matturro

The break of a deer trail

cuts through pine, oak and ash

into thick black woods

where nothing dies but turns

to humus and green shadow

in the forested field behind hospice.

My mother’s thin hands twist

my own. Her needs are a steel tether,

her dying a bond I can’t tear.

But while she sleeps I can run

the deer trail for a fleeting break

that tests the strength of steel.

A tang of mint and mold lifts

like mist from crushed brown leaves

as I race the trail, the tethers

a strangling rope tripping me till I fall

into mint and poison ivy, barely seeing

the beast that rests in front of me.

Grief rears up from humus

in the black woods where it loiters,

an ornate beast, neither cat nor wolf

but a bit of both. Grief’s scent is bear,

its black eyes panther,

but its fur is thick, stifling wool.

Lolling back on tawny haunches,

Grief crushes mint and poison ivy

beneath its weight and rips

my steel tethers

into shards of shiny foil

which swirl and fall in flurries.

I gather the shards and tatters

into a bouquet of mint and steel,

and leave the woods to sit again

with the dying woman, our grief

now a shared specter, neither cat nor wolf,

but an ornate beast of stifling weight.

Claire Hamner Matturro has been a journalist, lawyer, organic blueberry farmer, and college instructor. She is also the author of eight novels, including a series published by HarperCollins. Her poetry appears in Slant, Kissing Dynamite, New Verse News, One Art, Muddy River Poetry Review, Topical Poetry, Tiger Moth Review, Lascaux Review, and is forthcoming in Glassworks and Eunoia Review. An associate editor at Southern Literary Review, she lives in Florida with her husband and thier rescued crossed-eyed cat.