Animals: Two Poems by Marlin M. Jenkins

it’s spring i feel free i want to die
         with thanks to Erika Nestor

i am the sad animal who misses the feel of barred steel on teeth
who fears the outside space between eye and horizon//every open
field full of wildflowers i am allergic to each blooming one each
new degree causing the atoms to move faster//in the cold there are
slower molecules no sun to shine on the boy’s neck as he shuts
the door on the other boy’s head no sun to slip into the eyes
of drivers on the freeway//i keep the windows closed to keep
the ribosomes from rushing out the cell wall//in winter i consider
touching the naked trees and saying same but in winter i stay inside
away from how the sun is a gaslighting motherfucker it’s so loud
i can’t hear my ears ring//same with the wind each open window
one less barrier between me and the man who … and the men who
… and those who would …//the sun makes me want myself
martyred//knowing even holiness can kill is a kind of company//
dangerous containment//a terrible un-tearable veil//even god
having lived on the mountain isolated himself for a time in a room


“We cut into the world so that we can peer deeper inside.”
— Nailmaster Sheo, Hollow Knight

Some infections have no solution
         but what can be cut

away. Off. When all cannot
         be saved what can

we salvage. What can we meld
         from the selvage. What

workings under surface can be
retained. From the spread.

Source then metastasis. One
         murder hornet

hailing the rest of the hive
         to descend, invest

into new home. A sharp thin
         nail between infection

and infestation—each festering
         germ or each malign cell

like an insect spreading
because this is what

it does: finds a host
         and swarms.


this is what we do, yes? / protagonist of our own
stories / we the hero by nature of position / armed
         with sharp / caped + crossing into depths /
exploring what lies under / what hero do you know
         who didn’t leave dead shells in their wake /
I mean one who didn’t wake + wield destiny
         like a sword / I mean as a sword + with one /
I mean this place was the centipede’s home
         but it is mine now + so: pest, + so: exterminate.

Under the surface: a gray bug mourns with only      
         a tiny flower to offer in grief so delicate
it almost certainly will suffer the centipede’s fate.   


A swarm of ladybugs          is a bloom   is a blessing
is luck         for the humans                is death        to the aphids
                                                                     that’s it, isn’t it

every something will die    eventually
                                                         + I am very impatient.


In the ruins of a kingdom

a hollow-eyed insect descends

to keep infection from festering

The cause is noble

so who’s to prevent him

from this hunting from slaying of siblings

from slicing each village mantis

from finding a larger bug

strung up + cutting him down

just to kill him


I hear the full phrase is: curiosity
killed the cat
but satisfaction brought it back.

What of what the cat, in its curiosity,

On the autopsy table, the coroner
cuts, has a look inside. (How many
times has this been done until
the bodies no longer cause
surprise, until the human
whose hands open the body
is numb to mourning?)

What satisfies the coroner, enough
to facilitate a return?

There’s no twist ending here:
the dead body stays dead.


Too much water can kill you.
Too much salt can kill you.
The cyanide
in a cherry pit can kill you.
So can loneliness.
It lines the underside
of my skin
like orange pith.
It, too, festers—
I’m certain it’s sinking
its way deeper
down, down to my heart,
to do what
my ideation has begged
but hands have not
carried through.

What blade is built
for the purpose
of this excision
and would the fruit knife
suffice? What must
I sever
to stop the spread?


Truth is:

If I held my head
under the border
of the bathtub’s water, I too
would flit
like the ladybug
in the toilet bowl.

(The body fights
to preserve itself
+ I would be better
to listen—)


If in my fight
or flight thrashing
I strike
another body
is it my fault?

Here I go asking
the wrong question
again. As if
a question could
repair harm, could be
the suture
and not just
the needle.


Truth is: I don’t have much to say about goodness
except that I don’t trust it. I’m tired of violence
but my dreams aren’t. I promise: I want to live
just not like this. I harbor guilt from who I’ve harmed.
I somehow think this guilt, when sharpened, is not
just another weapon.


Truth is: humanity is not
a virus.
don’t make decisions,
they just do it.

We say what we are
so when we fail to change
we have a name for nature.


Please forgive me the limits
of metaphor:
                     what there is to be done
with my loneliness does not
have to involve cutting
off. Or, a blade
at all.

Let me start again:

Please forgive me how
I’ve turned the shield
of language on its side,
used even that edge to cut,
pretended this is better
than the blunt force
of the flat surface used to strike.

A shield because I hide
behind it. Because when wielded
wrong I am still, too, hurt
by the way I tensely grip.

A shield because
a shield elicits more sympathy
than the sword.

Please forgive me—
no. Here I go again
the wrong request.


This is still sin: to believe
because I can be crushed
I cannot also crush.

(Other bodies too fight
to preserve themselves
and I would do better
to listen.)


Such ego – I’m looking
         at this bug sitting still

on a bench + I’m certain
         it’s looking at me, too.

(Even the smallest of us
can have a lethal bite.)

Either of us could harm
         the other. Or beat

the other to the punch
by turning the blade 

back toward the self,
                 as in, cut out

the middleman. This time,
         we don’t.


I’ve spent so much time knowing the knife
can cut I’d neglected its role in preparing a dish.
Emphasized the sharp
of the nail
forgetting how it is used
to build. Or repair. Deep underground

a beetle runs through tunnels
along a recently-fixed route, finds
a spreading nest of other bugs
and just lets them be.

About Marlin M. Jenkins

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and currently lives in Minnesota. The author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020) and a graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA program, his work has found homes with Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online at