Two Poems by Kelly Shepherd

Songs Around the Prickly Pear

Dry grasslands sing you
bleached-tree hilltops sing you
scrub flatlands sing you
yellow marmot trails sing you
acres between ponderosa pines sing you

Parched gravel creekbeds mourn
by singing you

You exchange melodies
with porcupine, and wild rose, and urchin

You are fire, you gather in crackling circles
to sing around yourself
then break up to sing alone
the traveling songs of hoof and tail,
hiking boot and trail

For a human being to learn your lyrics
they must first eat of your flesh
and the one who would taste you
must first be tasted by you –
there is a ritual that must be adhered to –
prickly pear harmonizes best with bloody fingers

You sing only sharp notes, your voice is spines,
ancient green and reptile dry
you are the spiky back of a crusty fish
that has given up on ever finding water again
its bones sing you

Of the Grotto

The self seeps red
back down the thread
to the beginning of the spiral

to the knapped point
where human realized itself
out of animal

and we scraped on stones
until they spoke
intricate lines, bounded shapes,

music of hoof and hump
and antler, but it wasn’t enough.
Precise to the tendon

we imagined animals,
and ourselves coming out
or going back in.

Even with Ariadne’s thread
the poet does not emerge
unscathed from the labyrinth.

The blood on your horns
might not be your own,
but the blood in your fur will be.



Kelly Shepherd has worked as a kindergarten teacher in South Korea, and a construction worker in northern Alberta, Canada. His first full-length poetry collection, Shift, was published by Thistledown Press in 2016 and longlisted for the Edmonton Public Library’s People’s Choice Award in 2017. Insomnia Bird, a second full-length collection, is forthcoming from Thistledown Press in 2018. He has written six poetry chapbooks, most recently A Hidden Bench (the Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver, 2017). Kelly has a Creative Writing MFA from UBC Okanagan, and an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Alberta, with a thesis on sacred geography. Originally from Smithers, British Columbia, Kelly lives and teaches in Edmonton, Alberta. He is also the poetry editor for the environmental philosophy journal The Trumpeter.

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