Expedition Notes

You are responsible for recovering every wounded animal.
If the wounded animal breathes as though it were underwater, in
               terrible gulps or sharp pants, make a humming noise.
If the wounded animal makes a chirping or clicking sound, a
               stammer, a thump, if its body heaves up and down like a
               water pump moves inside its stomach, if its whiskers and
               mouth twitch, a tick like a switch, if its big paws paddle the
               air, if it bares its teeth, let it sleep.
Your presence may comfort.
Even if the wounded animal runs from you, even if it is shot in the
               critical heart-lung, even if you mark in your mind the spot it
               has fallen, in cover, watch over.
Crows and ravens may lead you back to the wounded animal.
Stay at a safe distance. A wounded animal will attack its own cubs.
If the wounded animal’s eyes are bloodshot, if they weep rusty water
               or are frozen in a stare, if they wildly blink or stutter or seem
               to stumble inside their sockets, build a fire.
If the wounded animal is bleeding from its eyes look up at the sky.
If the wounded animal’s body suddenly seizures, is stripped of
               suppleness, if its chest is strapped by some unseen and
               terrible belt, place a swatch of soft fabric over its rigid and
               rippling body.
If the wounded animal has hidden under pine needles, broken bark
               or fallen logs stand still without making a sound.
If there is no slight breath, no small sigh or struggle, no wheezing or
               wobbly exhale, no hollowed out moan, no low groan or
               lonely murmur, if there is nothing left of the wounded
               animal, place your hand on its head.
There is no god to hear your prayer.
Kneel and press your forehead into the earth. Do you hear the wind
               push through the dry grass?
At least there is that.
At least there is the sky with its burning colors.
If you fail your wounded animal, if you went looking for water or
               food or shelter, if you let the wind distract you, if night
               fell before you could dress its wounds or bathe its broken leg,
               if you forgot the exact diameter surrounding the wounded
               animal, the contours of ash field and ice-covered stream, or
               crumbling mountain and wide pasture, you are still
               responsible. You are still responsible for the wounded animal
               even at night, even in the darkness of your tent, even in your
               sleep, even in your sleep.

Carrie Bennett is a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow and author of biography of water (The Word Works), The Land Is a Painted Thing (The Word Works), and several chapbooks from Dancing Girl Press: The Quiet Winter, Animals in Pretty Cages, and The Affair Fragments. Poems from her newest poetic project, Expedition Notes, have appeared in Anchor, Horse Less Review, Pangyrus, Salamander, Small Po[r]tions, and Timber, and as an ephemerabook by Letter [r] Press. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA from Florida State University. She teaches writing at Boston University and lives in Somerville, MA with her family.