Sandra: At the Beaver Trap

By Michael S. Harper b. 1938
Nose only above water;   
an hour in the ice melt;
paw in a beaver trap,
northern leaping through—
the outlet sieving, setter-
retriever staked to her trip,   
The stake of her young   
life run to nose level.

Farmers adjacent to the lake   
call ’round for the owner;   
at least they call around,   
and a man in a pickup
pulls her out, her crushed   
paw limp in the blazing sun.

Shivering on our pantry floor,
wrapped in a snowsuit,
I see her dam the clamped paw
staked to the sleeve,   
licking for breaks,
a light trickle of blood   
spilling from a torn nail.

Next spring she will tramp   
down our wire,
stamp on six goslings,   
swim for teal,
run down blackbirds,
drag deer bones in our garden.

She limps on the compost pile,
shakes at the vet,
fishes under makeshift docks,
ferrets out mink,
frog, green snake,
any animal scrimmage without stakes:   
listen to her spayed name—
warned, thwarted, disregarded, beautiful—
last of her line.

Michael S. Harper, “Sandra: At the Beaver Trap” from History is Your Own Heartbeat. Copyright © 1971 by Michael S. Harper. Reprinted with the permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: History is Your Own Heartbeat (University of Illinois Press, 1971)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Michael S. Harper b. 1938

Subjects Pets, Relationships

Occasions Get Well & Recovery

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Michael S. Harper


Acclaimed poet and teacher Michael S. Harper was born in 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Known his innovative use of jazz rhythms, cultural allusion, historical referent and personal narrative, Harper is “a deeply complex poet whose mission is to unite the fractured, inhumane technologies of our time with the abiding deep well of Negro folk traditions,” said John Callahan in the New Republic. Harper does this, noted Poetry reviewer . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Pets, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.