I invite the river to pray itself inside me
into the flow of my bones
through the spiraled chambers of my perception

I want my bed lined with moss and stones tonight
my dreams drenched in the wet reflection of stars
so that when I rise in the morning
the river has re-membered me

Before I dress myself for clock time
I press wet black feathers and sticky golden catkins
against my torso to encircle me

The slim ungulate pelvis rising from the mud
becomes my own

I move into the right angles of the workplace
with the grace of insistent leisure
my breathing an eddy of quiet revolution

As I tap the keyboard
tiny pinhead violets from the water’s edge
blossom under my wrists

My fingers smear silt on the medical records
as vagabond seeds fall from my cuffs
into manila folders
to incubate in the intermittent midnight
of file cabinets

My night-damp foot prints sprout mushrooms
in the pale carpet of the dayroom

I speak in birdsong and confuse the program

Each evening I walk next to the river in order to ground and nourish myself. I sense the healing presence of this wild strip of land that holds the water, and want to carry that presence within me, onto the locked psychiatric unit where I work. My desire is to sow seeds of wildness in a setting that often equates conformity and compliance with healing. This piece arrived through allowing the myriad voices of the river corridor to speak through my imagination. It is equal parts waking dream and manifesto.


There is a silent music

A thrumming twine
of fear and desire
that calls the hunter
to stalk the wolf

To eclipse her body
with the moon of his scope


That he will stitch himself
to her with his bullet

Pull her red voice
into the story of his dreams
where she will unearth him
from himself

Reverse the hunt
to let him be the prey
and follow his own
blood trail

Over new snow
deeper into woods
that are the winter
of his rib cage

His frozen house
of breath and bones
that aches with the thaw

And beats with the furnace
of a four-chambered drum

A red ocean music
rising up
from the underground root
of his own howl.

This piece arose as a response to the news that the alpha female of Teanaway Washington’s federally protected wolf pack was shot and killed. Her death occurred during hunting season, and at the time I began writing, a suspect had been identified.

Each gesture, creative or destructive, is communication, an opening into conversation with the living world. In indigenous cultures the hunt has been a conscious conversation of sacred reciprocity, the prey animals dreamed, honored and thanked. In this piece I imagine the wolf’s response to being shot at a distance, with a high-powered rifle, without meeting the eyes of the hunter. Perhaps beneath the projections and mistaken beliefs, the killer unconsciously seeks connection, with the wild, with an exiled part of himself. Yet, to claim full kinship with the nonhuman others would be to open himself to the grief and vulnerability of living in an animal body, to being prey, to being poisoned, marginalized, cast out and attacked. So he reaches out through the wounded language of violence, fearful of giving up the false security of his stance of separation. As one who has hunted, killed, and listened closely to the non- human others, I know in my bones that the living world desires intimacy with humans, that it responds to our clumsy and mistaken attempts at conversation with grace and power. This poem is an offering to the clawed, feathered, scaled and human others who are hungry for connection.

About the Author

Sheila Murray grew up in New England and New Jersey, and was called to the west by the twin sirens of imagination and desire. She earned a master’s degree in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, and recently completed a yearlong Soulcraft intensive with Animas Valley Institute. Sheila continues to explore the mysteries of nature and psyche from her home in the Flathead Valley of Montana.

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