Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 16: B.J. Buckley

This is another poem that I first read while judging last year’s Poetry Super Highway contest. It’s a marvelous example of a myth poem, or a poem which performs ekphrasis in response to a story or character from mythology. Diana the Hunter shows up in a few places in modern literature; possibly my favorite reference to her is Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy which begins with A Discovery of Witches.

I love the character of Diana the Hunter and the way Buckley characterizes her here: agencied, powerful, unapologetic, vivid and unafraid and embracing. She has the same verve as Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who howls of Claudio, “O God, that I were a man! I / would eat his heart in the marketplace.”

But Diana isn’t filled with heartbroken sorrow for her cousin’s unfair misfortune and its resulting vengeful fury.

Buckley’s Diana knows from an early age the full scope of life and death and her place in that cycle, and she operates within it with extraordinary clarity and confidence.

Diana in Autumn

I am not afraid to say I live by blood.
Before that red flow gushed
from my own belly
I was a swimmer elbow-deep
in the carcasses of deer,
I ripped breath’s tunnel
from a slit throat,
used all my strength
against the weight
of a stomach full of grass
and alder shoots.
I held a heart, still beating,
in my hand,
took with soft lips
from the blade of my father’s knife
that slice of liver, hot and raw,
my first communion.
Before my breasts bloomed
I had burned bodies,
torn flesh from bones,
howled the mad wild joy of it.
Eden is closed,
and I in every ruddy leaf
am Fallen.
I love the incense of decay,
the deer,
this dust we are
and were and will be,
the arrow singing slaughter
in my hand.

***

B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools/Communities programs throughout the West and Midwest for over 45 years in schools, libraries, hospitals, senior centers and homeless shelters. Her work has appeared in Whitefish Review, ellipsis, Sugar House Review, December, Sequestrum, About Place Journal, The Comstock Poetry Review, and many others. Her most recent book is Corvidae, Poems of Ravens, Crows, and Magpies, with woodcut illustrations by Dawn Senior-Trask, Lummox Press 2014.