Orick Peterson


Where is the family that longs for its baby
with warm arms?

I have found its child.

He is the one whose head is a stone,
his eyes set there as hot jewels.
His head of stone is linked to a paunch
that dangles its spider legs to trudge, trudge,
trudge toward a place without any water.

Where is the casualty father, the starved mother,
the grandparents, cousins, the razed village
that needs this child?

What arms ache for him?
He has been looking for them everywhere.


At camp once, hiking single file behind a couple dozen kids
who had no eyes for what was wild, he saw the leaves between his keds
uncoil—“A copperhead! You all get out of here!” but if he yelled
to warn the snake or them, I still don’t know.

A scorching day at Alley Spring, he’d rinsed his face off.
As he swung back up,
he saw a moccasin streak from the pool he’d leaned down in.
He told us, shaking, very pale and slow.

That fall we found a sphagnum bog he’d known when he was ten.
He showed us where a garter snake was licking toward an emerald frog.
It sprang, bit in, and gulped it down, still kicking.
We took a hunk of sphagnum moss, and two of those queer sundew plants
that lock their hairs around a bug and eat it caged in there.
I would have dug a gentian up to bring, but he said they were all too few.

I’m sorry I keep losing him in what he found.
It’s true that once I saw him kill.
I’d got a tick stuck somewhere that I couldn’t reach.
I didn’t see him hold the match against it, just his face, twisted:
“Horrible, to bury your whole self inside the one you eat!”
The killing wasn’t what disgusted him, but feeling
how the fat would press on him in that tick’s skin.
The sense possessing him was more than pity, more complete
than pain. I don’t think he would kill for you.

© Orick Peterson