TO THE EARTH

In the middle, as in the beginning of a long journey, the
antelope resemble themselves. Crisisless. Crouched in the
ryegrass, the hunter can almost taste the pepper of their
hooves. How long has it been since he resembled himself?

The sun sheds its gossamer veil–is it skin? Is what he is about
to break broken already?

He is ryegrass. The voices of his heart like tensed wings; ripples in the serum of a stoppered vial. Death is the only word in any language sleeping won’t spoil.

Somewhere, everywhere, a girl is taking her clothes off.

How chthonic the grasses
unclothing the scattered trees.
What can hide here?
Out of the ravine of childhood, Agbanli takes off
her antelope skin and unbends into a girl.

Look: like the god into the swan.

What use is a manhood? The hunter never spoke of how
father talked to him as though he were addressing some boy
of his own imagination, one of those boys that exist in
stories, completely unlike the hunter.

Mortal resilience, like a spider’s reanimation, after drowning.

Agbanli buries her antelope skin in the dirt
along the path to the village. She is the only song she is
and always it leaves her. At the market,
shadows of branches bend like antlers in the grass.

Witness to a prayer already prayed, the hunter takes her skin.

Agbanli does not know her skin has been taken. The hunter trails his arms along the russet fur before testing its naked side. A low growl like a basso purr in his throat.

A girl has nothing to fear, having only been a doe.

Part of her body is already a corpse.
On her way back from the market, she passes antelope
wandering in the grasses with their scar-dark capes.
Her skin is not there.

The hunter approaches.

God puts his ear to the earth.
The susurrus of the ryegrasses translates what neither of
them said:
“It’s you?”
“It isn’t.”

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A native of California, DIANA KHOI NGUYEN’s poems and reviews appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, West Branch, and Lana Turner, among others. She has also received the Fred and Edith B. Herman Award from the Academy of American Poets and Scotti Merrill Award from the Key West Literary Seminars, as well as four Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarships, an Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Lucille Clifton Scholarship from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. A Ruth Lilly Fellowship finalist, she earned her MFA from Columbia University and was recently the Roth Resident in poetry at Bucknell University. This fall, she will enter into the creative writing PhD at the University of Denver. www.dianakhoinguyen.com