It Was the Animals

By Natalie Diaz Natalie Diaz
Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark
wrapped in a white plastic grocery bag.

He set the bag on my dining table, unknotted it,
peeled it away, revealing a foot-long fracture of wood.
He took a step back and gestured toward it
with his arms and open palms — 

            It’s the ark, he said.
            You mean Noah’s ark? I asked.
            What other ark is there? he answered.

            Read the inscription, he told me,
            it tells what’s going to happen at the end.
            What end? I wanted to know.
            He laughed, What do you mean, “what end”?
            The end end.

Then he lifted it out. The plastic bag rattled.
His fingers were silkened by pipe blisters.
He held the jagged piece of wood so gently.
I had forgotten my brother could be gentle.

He set it on the table the way people on television
set things when they’re afraid those things might blow-up
or go-off — he set it right next to my empty coffee cup.

It was no ark — 
it was the broken end of a picture frame
with a floral design carved into its surface.

He put his head in his hands — 

            I shouldn’t show you this — 
            God, why did I show her this?
            It’s ancient — O, God,
            this is so old.

            Fine, I gave in, Where did you get it?
            The girl, he said. O, the girl.
            What girl? I asked.
            You’ll wish you never knew, he told me.

I watched him drag his wrecked fingers
over the chipped flower-work of the wood — 

            You should read it. But, O, you can’t take it — 
            no matter how many books you’ve read.

He was wrong. I could take the ark.
I could even take his marvelously fucked fingers.
The way they almost glittered.

It was the animals — the animals I could not take — 

they came up the walkway into my house,
cracked the doorframe with their hooves and hips,
marched past me, into my kitchen, into my brother,

tails snaking across my feet before disappearing
like retracting vacuum cords into the hollows
of my brother’s clavicles, tusks scraping the walls,

reaching out for him — wildebeests, pigs,
the oryxes with their black matching horns,
javelinas, jaguars, pumas, raptors. The ocelots
with their mathematical faces. So many kinds of goat.
So many kinds of creature.

I wanted to follow them, to get to the bottom of it,
but my brother stopped me — 

            This is serious, he said.
            You have to understand.
            It can save you.

So I sat down, with my brother wrecked open like that,
and two-by-two the fantastical beasts
parading him. I sat, as the water fell against my ankles,
built itself up around me, filled my coffee cup
before floating it away from the table.

My brother — teeming with shadows — 
a hull of bones, lit only by tooth and tusk,
lifting his ark high in the air.

Source: Poetry (March 2014).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2014
 Natalie  Diaz

Biography

Natalie Diaz was born in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community. She earned a BA from Old Dominion University, where she received a full athletic scholarship. Diaz played professional basketball in Europe and Asia before returning to Old Dominion to earn an MFA. She is the author of the poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012), . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Animals, Religion, Christianity

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.