Nathan Erwin

In Chautauqua County, I smoked a joint with Olivia for her first time, 

behind her childhood home, set back from the road.


Before, I took the last drag, I looked up

to see a fox whisper out of the neighbor’s grapes. 


It was late & our small fire dimly lit the yard, giving shadows to trees. The wind 

encouraged their roots to fly, milling in the sharp language of time.


The fox, clear & burning, lowered himself to the grass,

watching the stillness of a mother rabbit at the hedgerows.


Releasing my hand, Olivia stood up, as if to help her somehow,
                                    & the fox took a step forward. 


The flesh-eater’s hair bristled, a shapeshifter scrounging for mushrooms 

at the end of the world, a jaw capable of breaking the rabbit’s neck in five seconds.


His incisors, glinted in the dewy dark, reflecting the fires of Troy & Carthage, teeth 

that went back beyond the building of the henges, before the flood story, 

echoing a procession of pouring darkness more ancient than any god.


Incisors that, once, in that blackness 

drew blood from mishappen beings, lost & lumbering. 


The mother rabbit sat still.      


It could have been the weed, that we were way too high, but we thought we heard her say,

I’ve been wondering about you. 


I glanced at my wife as she stopped laughing, 

I wanted to hold her still all night, her body curling


in the early style of smoke, but something spilled over her face (was it confusion or sorrow?), 

& just there, behind it, for a moment, it was if another person had arrived, or was it another fire?


The fox split                                  in two.


One half tore down a row of grapes, followed by Olivia on the phone with animal control.

They told her all their drivers were in for the night; it was Independence Day, after all.


The other half lunged at the rabbit & one of them, I couldn’t tell which, called out my name. 


Three mourning doves in a nearby tree lifted off & when I looked back, in some sort of divine trick,

everything had vanished. 


Inside me, fleetingly, I saw the little misshapen fractals of evil 

passed down through bloodstream, my father & his & his. 


I’ve been wondering about you, I said to my joint, then to myself, 

then to the clay & water that made me. 


Olivia returned with a tick on her thigh. Whispering out of the grapes, 

&, unapologetically, into the house. 


Image | Cherry Blossom Illustration


In the morning, 

the grapes fell in a white, gauzy light.


& down the street, Lake Erie let out a brilliant shine 

then tightened.


Headshot | Nathan Erwin


NATHAN ERWIN is a land-based poet raised on the Allegheny Plateau, the northernmost tier of Appalachia. An institutional organizer, Erwin currently operates at the Pocasset Pokanoket Land Trust building healthy futures for indigenous farmers and organizing around the 2023 Farm Bill and tribal land repatriation. His writing has recently appeared in The Journal, Willow Springs, FOLIO, Bombay Gin, Poet Lore, and Ninth Letter. His organizing and his poetry are conversant, and so he writes about land, medicine, myths, and wanting.