“Naming the Beasts” by Elizabeth Morton

Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2019: Editor’s Choice


Photo from Elsewhere by B.A. Van Sise, two cows with jet flying overhead

Image: “Restricted | U.S. Air Force” by B.A. Van Sise from his “Elsewhere” series. “Naming the Beasts” was written by Elizabeth Morton for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2019, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Elizabeth Morton


The planes went down the same day Romulus and Remus
were butchered.
And I walked barefoot through the cattlegrass,
mooed to Romulus and Remus
and they said how do you do?
as though it were an ordinary Tuesday.
As though the stock truck
parked outside the old schoolhouse
were just a metaphor for everything
thrust into double digits. The sky was cheesecake.
Sweetgums were bald to skin and bone. Wind licked
the bluegrass, retelling comedies
only the weather sees. What world is this?
Romulus and Remus were the hot breath
rising from the schoolhouse kettle,
the two sparrows that knocked against the car windshield
on that lonely highway. They were a pair of headlights.
They were possums spent on nightfall, giddy
with the casual light of passing tankers.
Romulus and Remus loped onto the truck ramp,
Said how do you do? And I. And I. And I.
I walked barefoot through embers only to turn back halfway,
to shrug at the ordinary Tuesday, to let what happens
happen. I hid from the bellowing, under husk and chaff,
in the noise of harrower and winnower.
Later, I sat in the diner, watched two planes go down on a city,
into the stubble of people and places
just doing what people and places do.
As though little men falling from windows
were just a metaphor for everything haunted
by what we never fix.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
July 2019, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “That Tuesday being such a gorgeous late-summer day in New York, I was surprised at how many of the poets thought of September 11th when looking at this photograph. I assumed I wouldn’t select one of them—it just doesn’t fit. But then I fell in love with the turns and turns of phrase in this poem, and those two cows loping toward their fate, and I realized that it would have been late-winter in the southern hemisphere, the first buds of spring not quite appearing on the trees. That thought opened something up for me—something about the combination of vastness and interconnectedness of the world—and I’ll never think of 9/11 in quite the same way again. Eighteen years later now, I wouldn’t have thought that possible.”

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