01-13-2015

Travis Mossotti 

 

Field Study

Roofers had been hammering
on the neighbor's roof
since dawn, 
fashioning 
whatever was left
of my dreams 
with heavy steel heads 
and threepenny nails, 
and for a second 
I thought I saw Regina
rising as steam from the backs
of bison.          I imagined

she could be like that, 
like vapor or mist, 
like something 
that could get inside-
then she was hiking
the curve of another sunrise
to find and study a pack 
of wolves in Yellowstone,
the Silvers, the deep
cold meeting her lips,
flakes of skin peeling

from her sunburned face,
three points 
to triangulate the signal 
and a telescopic lens
fixed to distant animals
on a distant snow-covered mountain.
Some loneliness
had crept in
and hammered her image
to the walls of my skull, 
left me alone with her,

made me forget
about those roofers,
made me forget that they too 
must've had loves at home
or a pit of silence
where that love should've been,
the kind of silence one finds
in the wilderness
after sitting alone 
for hours in the snow
waiting for anything
to break it.

          *

Then suddenly a dream
of smoke rising again
from the woods behind
my childhood house: 
a single-level ranch 
that sank deeper each year
into the bottom 
of a cul-de-sac, 
and that small patch of oak
smoldered from a fire
my brother and I had set
on accident,
were lucky enough
to put out-flames coughing
back to nothing. 
But then suddenly
there were neighbors
and firemen and the anger,
something about justice 
registered in the way
they threatened
to have us arrested. 
As though our youth
could've burned them
alive. As though our youth
could've burned them 
and everyone they loved
from the inside out.

          *

Even after I'd finally given up on sleep, coffee 
percolating, I couldn't shake the image of that fire.
It was just a story-I was full of them-
but it was one I'd never told to Regina,
probably never would, and I found it strange,
the stories we keep secret for no reason,
the stories those roofers probably kept tucked
like hammers in their belts, stories so real
and permanent they could call them to attention
with a whistle. And because the cold had taken
longer than usual to break I couldn't remember
having seen men as happy to work as they were, 
so pleased to repeat the misfortunes of their fathers,
their father's name        & Sons        still glued 
to the pickup truck parked alongside the road,
my own father's legacy glued to the dishwater's
reflection and my own face like leftovers crusted
to the sink, crusted. These stories we go on not telling.

 

White Oak Conservation Center

               ~Yulee, Florida

We cupped bits of meat in our palms
to coax Hasari, a young female cheetah,
an ambassador for her species,
out to the patch of white sand
where the keepers snapped pictures:
down on one knee, her between us,
our hands on her back. She was like
rubbing up against an idling Ferrari,
the purr of an engine trapped in metal,
and I thought she would grow bored
with us, with the pomp of the photo shoot,
end it in a flash of teeth, a swipe of claws,
but she didn't. They told us she behaved
just fine, even when they took her for walks
on a leash down to the clubhouse where
golfers retired in Black Watch plaid
and thirty-year-old scotch
between walls of lacquered walnut,
feet up, thumbing the Wall Street Journal-
White Oak: first-rate conservation center 
with Nassau County's finest country club
built right in.       I listened to a Somali wild ass
in the enclosure next to us screaming
for retribution or fresh water or maybe
just to hear his own voice, but I couldn't
take my eyes off Hasari, not even
for the camera, not even when
it was all over and we left. I remember 
how we snuck back down to her that night,
felt her fur through chain-link fence,
how I was still convinced she'd turn
into the animal she was and take a shot,
take a finger, take something, take
the full moon wasting its dumb light on us,
take the earth and the sand and the rock
and smear it across the universe,
take the tuft of rabbit fur they'd run along 
the fence line some afternoons for enrichment,
help her to reach her full potential, 67 mph,
for the amazement of the spectators 
who would always hope
for another run, another run, another run. 
Take that stupid circus act and shove it.
One day, I wanted Hasari to hop clean
over the fence and take a spectator like me
between her teeth, bite down hard, 
a different breed of amazement 
circulating the crowd, one that comes
with the full understanding
of her purpose, her design, 
why exactly she was built to run that fast.


The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island

           The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling 
               travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds 
               soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.
               ~Wilbur Wright, from a speech delivered in 1908 

Every green
and yellow sign
along the highway
from Edenton

to Roanoke Island 
has been peppered
with shotgun pellets,
buckshot spread,

and the single lonely
Red Wolf Crossing marker
along this corridor
that we find posted near

          the refuge
          is no different.

          *

               For sport:

                         one shoots a stationary object
                         while steadying one's aim
                         upon the roof of a speeding pickup
                         with missing tailgate:


                         how palliative the tight pattern dead center;
                         how cathartic the road tar fumaroles
                         fused with gunpowder 
                         inside the shooter's flared nostrils:

               as if to say:

                         fear not gun-shy passerby,
                         we mean you no explicit harm.

                         Let what has passed become a riptide
                                   between us.
                         Beaches, be your salve.

          *

At the Dare Haven Motel in northern Dare County, 
the thickset female night clerk with a mustache
and chin whiskers tending feral cats      comes upright
from the food bowls to show us to our room.
Regina tells her that we're here to track the wolves,
that we plan to hike the refuge again tomorrow.
The clerk plucks the web of a fist-sized garden spider
under the porch light and it clamps up tight, says she
has never seen one but that she's heard them
at night while smoking on the cool of her porch,
that she has listened to their ruckus of yowls-
like damn train whistles gone haywire, she says,
turning the doorknob with one hand, jiggling
the key at the same time with the other.

           *

                                                             Climb the dunes at Kill Devil Hills.
                                                                                           Make camp:

                              when nightfall creeps up again, 
                              dream the Wright brothers
                              unwinding across the fire pit,
                              talking minutiae with each other:

                              the Flyer's sedulously
                              mended propeller-
                              this final Sabbath 
                              spent biding time,

                              huddled against the fire
                              like two buoys adrift
                              amidst the tireless 
                              ocean-driven wind.

          *

Born into the lost colony of Roanoke Island, 
Virginia Dare, first child born
in the Americas
to English parents,
you were born only to be
abandoned by your father,
born only to assimilate
with the local population,
subsumed and confirmed
by future explorers:
the unique gray eyes
subsisting in a few
of the native islanders
some hundred years later

          *

in the clerk's eyes, I can see you
                                                   have grown feral, Virginia,
living on the fringe of the refuge
                                                   in a tired, old wooden shack.
We've come all this way
                                                   to witness a rare wolf in situ,
but instead we find you
                                                   tending a run-down motel, 
using your heft to squeeze
                                                   a dumpster shut in the parking lot
while a tire-fire-laced breeze
                                                   slips past the curtains. I can't help
but think, if only for a second,
                                                   Virginia, that this, your country, 
has nothing left to do but burn.

          *

Crab pots stacked 
next to the bridge
wait for the day
to sink again,

so we may dine
on salt-licked
bisque, 
shrimp and grits,

haggle driftwood
with a man born
in Edenton
who knows

the asking price
on this island
of claim
and salvage.

          *

A single set of red wolf prints,
in all our searching,
vanished as a downpour seized 
the refuge-these wolves,

this species Americans once made
extinct in the wild lives again
on the slimmest threshold of mercy
on the diminishing edge
                                   of this country,

          which happens to be yours,
          Virginia, these fragile shores
          rooted in sand and lore
          that will in the near future

be reclaimed by the rising ocean
becoming seabed and nothing more.

         *

                                                      John T. Daniels, Kitty Hawk lifesaving crewman, 
                                                              recalls the moments before the first flight:

 

                                           After a while 
                                           they shook hands,
                                           and we couldn't help notice
                                           how they held on

                                           to each other's hand, 
                                           sort o' like they hated
                                           to let go; like two folks
                                           parting

                                          who weren't sure
                                          they'd ever
                                          see each other
                                          again.

           *

We can't see each other
across the darkened starched
king-sized motel sheets, 
but tomorrow you and I 
will leave this coast empty-handed,
save these histories, stories,
spaces we've inhabited briefly, 
species we've suffered 
to understand in spite
of the natives with their guns
and distaste for creatures
that creepeth upon the earth.
America, we have nowhere else
to turn; help us to find our way
back into you.

 

-from Field Study, selected by Guest-Editor Mark J. Brewin Jr. 

BIO: Travis Mossotti has worked and volunteered over the last decade alongside his wife (a carnivore biologist) with U.S. government, university and nonprofit organizations on data collection, animal captures/ releases and lab work for various endangered species recovery efforts all across North America. Mossotti serves as Poet-in-Residence at the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis. He was awarded the 2011 May Swenson Poetry Award by contest judge Garrison Keillor for his first collection of poems About the Dead (USU Press, 2011), and his second collection Field Study won the 2013 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize (Bona Fide Books, 2014). His third collection Narcissus Americana was selected by Billy Collins as the winner of the 2018 Miller Williams Prize (University of Arkansas Press, 2018). Mossotti has also published two chapbooks, and recent poems of his have appeared in issues of the Moon City Review, Natural Bridge, Rattle, and elsewhere. He has published poems from Los Angeles to New York to Dublin, has given guest lectures at universities across the U.S., and has received numerous fellowships, awards and honors. Mossotti teaches in the writing program at Webster University and works for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at Washington University.