4 Beasts (excerpted from 50 Beasts to Break Your Heart)
The Wrip-Wender is a two-headed snake, each side wet-toothed with fatal venom. When the Wrip-Wender reaches mating age, one head will fall in love with the other. It will spend a fortnight writhing against the earth as one head thrashes towards its twin. Eventually, they will meet. Fang will meet throat. Desire will meet body. One head will poison the other. Both sides will die.
Sonos perch on the telephone lines and listen through their feet. As the town’s whisperings racket from wire to wire, house to house, Sonos grow plump. They are gluttonous eavesdroppers. Before telephones, they stalked telegraph operators and postmen. Before that, they crouched on poets’ shoulders and clustered around broadsides nailed to pub walls. They have always heard us. Sonos like bad news best. Not out of cruelty— there is simply a fattiness to the moment a person realizes the worst is here. A buttery quality, muffled as if dipped in batter.
Fear the Archilot: the house with knees. Fear its gait. Fear the insatiable lure towards restlessness. The house has made a gift of wanderlust. See it beside the railroad, all golden & rain-slick, tasting of saffron. The Archilot sings whaling ballads by memory, sleeps beneath pillows like a tooth, calls young girls Voyager to groom them for roaming. It plays fetch with hubcaps spat from its own door. The girls carry it under their tongues, or it carries them. Rain stitches through shingle-gaps, sneaks in like a thief. Oh how the Archilot trembles when wet. How it gallops like a whipped mare. All it wants is to charge off the end of this earth.
A Harrow’s face is rarely seen. They are too handsome— vulgar with beauty, so that to gaze upon one feels like reading a letter you were not meant to see. To conceal themselves, the females grow bone masks and the males whittle masks from cherry wood blanched with lemon juice. Harrows only remove their masks once a year, on the first warm rain of Spring. It is the night when salamanders scuttle up from the creek and the soil goes black. If a human sneaks up on a Harrow when its face is uncovered and sees its true visage, the Harrow is beholden to them. Anything the human tells it to do, it must obey. Dance, the human may say. Leave your pack, the human may say. Love me, the human may say. Give me children as beautiful as you. Burn your mask in the woodstove. Stay inside and let no one see you and press my cotton shirts on the ironing board until the steam dizzies you, you pretty, pretty thing.
GENNAROSE NETHERCOTT is the author of The Lumberjack’s Dove (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2018), selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series. Her other projects include A Ghost of Water (an ekphrastic collaboration with printmaker Susan Osgood) and the narrative song collection Modern Ballads. Her work has appeared in The Offing, Rust & Moth, PANK, and elsewhere, and she has been a writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm Nebraska, and the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris. (Bio Credit: http://gennarose.strikingly.com/)