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Animal Companions

April 2010

Linda McCarristonimg's powerful poem, "Le Coursier de Jeanne D'Arc," about the imagined burning of the horse of Saint Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) is also a painful poem.

I heard her read it years ago and it still haunts me. She uses Joan's horse as a way to explore not only the cruelty and tyranny of Joan's death, but also her own abusive childhood and the treatment of her mother. And, of course, it reaches beyond all that to ourselves.

I think the idea of using someone famous that we know, but describing them through an animal they loved is an interesting idea for a writing prompt.

There are some famous pets of the famous. Margate, a stray black kitten, who showed up on the doorstep of No. 10 Downing St. where Winston Churchill was heading out for a speech to be given in the town of Margate, was seen by him as a good luck sign and a show of support. Churchill adopted the kitten immediately and named her Margate and she ended up sleeping in Churchill's bedroom thereafter. General Robert E. Lee's beloved horse throughout the Civil War was Traveller.

But, I think McCarriston's poem may be intimidating as a model.

Perhaps, you should think of the famous person and imagine the animal companion. What about Alexander the Great's cat or Hamlet's falcon as a place to start you writing?

As serious as McCarriston's poem is, the result of this prompt does not have to be all that serious.

More on this prompt and other prompts and topics about poetry are on the Poets Online Blog.


In the night cafe,
he studies the room -
pool table unplayed,
a couple in back
three men with lowered heads,
a waiter waiting
but his only companion
a moth also studying the light

that drew him to the south
Arles sunlight yellow,
ultramarine and mauve,
the Louis XV green counter,
a place where one can ruin oneself,
go mad or commit a crime

the same moth
another night,
a coffeehouse,
sulfur pale yellow,
citron green,
a starry sky
those drawn to the light
are willing to burn
it is short-lived
but sadness will last forever

Lianna Wright


It might have saved the world half-a-dozen wars during the last century,
if the diplomats of Christendom had thus written their dispatches
under ‘the sweet influences of the Pleiades’ of Nature.
- Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to Land’s End (1865)

Sweet influence, indeed. Does a talking bird advise
the former Prime Minister at his residence hidden
behind hedges? What are the views of a parakeet
on affairs of Empire? Corn Laws, the Crimean War?
or, this very year, the running sore of Schleswig-
Holstein? War and war and again war. Has the Lord
leisure for “the second, sober thought of a calmer
mind”? Would he listen to his parakeet?

You, Elihu – Yankee foot-traveler with no official
business here, just a busy eye and brain – can’t see
through the screen of shrubbery. You imagine robin,
thrush, and blackbird singing wild above a flawless
lawn. And inside Pembroke’s walls, a captive rose-
ringed bird speaks peace; while in Parliament, men
of policy-and-procedure go on parroting the ills
of a blood-thirsty, human, civilized world.

Taylor Graham


Charles Darwin’s pet tortoise, Harriet,
was collected during his scientific journeys to the Galapagos Islands.
Her birth was calculated to 1830.
She would have heard the news about President Andrew Jackson
and might have drawn into her shell during the Civil War
only to emerge at 35 when she heard Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
If she lived in America.
But she didn't. She never did visit.
Either did Charles.
She wasn't at Down House when Darwin died in 1883.
She heard about the World War at a zoo,
and at 82 years she was saddened when the Titanic sank.
She knew that Pearl Harbor meant more fighting
but at 111 she was no longer surprised.
2006 began in Sydney with the warmest day on record.
Harriet was tired.
Even eating hibiscus flowers loses its appeal at 175.
When she died in the Australia Zoo,
she hadn't evolved at all and, from her perspective,
either had her captors.

Charles Michaels


I am famous, in a round-
about way,
a fact that doesn’t square
with your knowledge
or your understanding
or your perceptions
about anything.

The things you think you know,
people told you,
or maybe you just saw them
from your own angle
and misunderstood.

His hand in his vest,
for instance.

Baroque gentility from
a political genius.
Or so he thought.
As did you.
Unless you thought at all.
Then you would have called him a monster
with an ever-expanding perimeter.

Monstrous genius.
Brilliant monstrosity.

Then, in the end,
after all the fanfare,
fighting every country you can find,
in wars named after you,
you’re known only for being short.
With your hand in your vest.

Gentility and war.
Such unusual bedfellows.

Like he and I.
The monster and the lizard in his pocket.

Laurie Sitterding


I don't know if it is only a fable
Or a mantra of repetition
The spider and Robert Bruce in jail.

I can imagine it as a ballad,
Because of the Scot origins;
He, in a dungeon
With a piece of light streaming
About the (Brownian) particles
That move with unpredictable independence
In the dank and humid air.

The spider is a glider
In the limited world's grimness
As it attempts to spin of its web
To catch the flies and moths
The little details of life
That a housewife remains one
Are chores to be done,
All other actions being secondary.

This is Robert Bruce
With a hurting thigh
The pain comes as a sigh.
Through the bars a patch of blue sky
One thinks one is to die
But as the spider one will try
The Leaping into space for another try
Which by and by
In this grotto
Becomes a motto
Try, try, try
Life has no other cry.

Edward N Halperin


Always on those midnights at the end of December,
After fingernails of sleet had rapped against the window pane,
In relentless code that winter is here;
That our world inside is hollow,
The Raven sits on the head
Of a god long dead.
Vacantly, he stares,
With pupils as soundless as the universe,
The oubliettes of his sadness.

When he lived with her,
His wife, his cousin-sister,
For nine years without being her lover,
Poems she could never understand
Are what he gave her.
He learned to idolize her
When she was dead.
He did not love,
And so eloquently cursed the world
That he was different.

One need not be moral in art,
Only consistent.
And so, he was consistently sad,
Persistently casting hand-shadows on the walls
To terrify the children he never had;
Horrifying himself with the limits of his perversity.

Until now he is the last shadow,
Of intricate design and craft.
The Raven that neither rails nor exhorts,
But only animates
Us who would make art—
Because art is easier for us than love.
Everything is easier for us than love.

Ron Yazinski