Poems / December 4, 2023

The Caribou

Chessy Normile

Originally, the zoo was built to remind us
of our separation from nature.

There was no animal in the cage, just earth.

This reminds me
of Tony’s mom’s suburban lawn
in Madison, Wisconsin

overflowing with
native prairie grass
and signs from the city that read
“I am not insane.”

I keep the table in my closet
quiet and empty so it’s like
a cage of grass.

That’s where I write this poem now.
It’s Labor Day. Last night, The Caribou
was rammed with laughing people
none among us aware
of what a caribou really is—
how it lives, eats, feels, sleeps, talks, or dies.

I drank rainbow cans of beer
called Montucky Cold Snacks
with the astronomer
I share a blue house with.

He uses a radio
to map the Milky Way.

That’s the kind
of speechless life
a person craves—
where there is no cage

just ink and distance,

spots of light I won’t
ever understand and
beyond them the soft hair
around a black hole

remembering what it ate for lunch
20,000 years ago—sometimes,
me, too—my soft hair catches
the smell of what I cook or burn
and I walk around a record
for a while. But I’m on a leash –
presided over even when alone
by a voice in presidential moon boots
or the silk pants of a ringleader, controlled
by the fragrant ticket taker
who sleeps in the booth
in a chamber of my heart…

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Chessy Normile

Chessy Normile is the author of Great Exodus, Great Wall, Great Party (2020 APR/Honickman First Book Prize) and currently lives in Madison, WI.

More from The Nation

Prisoners at a prison in Tel Mond, Israel, 2004.

Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World Bringing a Seminal Palestinian Resistance Novel to the World

Talking with the translators of Wissam Rafeedie's The Trinity of Fundamentals, a book whose genesis is as extraordinary as its contents.

Q&A / Rayan El Amine

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together Pacita Abad Wove the Women of the World Together

Her art integrated painting, quilting, and the assemblage of Indigenous practices from around the globe to forge solidarity.

Books & the Arts / Jasmine Liu

Kid Cudi in Las Vegas, 2024.

The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi The Many Evolutions of Kid Cudi

In Insano, the rapper and hip-hop artist comes back down to earth.

Books & the Arts / Bijan Stephen

From “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction,” Aaron Douglas (1934).

The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance The Cosmopolitan Modernism of the Harlem Renaissance

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explores the world-spanning art of the Harlem Renaissance.

Books & the Arts / Rachel Hunter Himes

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage Transatlantic Tragedy: “Grenfell” Moves from Britain’s National Theatre to a Brooklyn Stage

An interview with Gillian Slovo, whose new play about the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London just opened in New York.

Feature / D.D. Guttenplan

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart.

Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders Blood, Guts, and Queer Bodybuilders

The Kristen Stewart–helmed erotic thriller Love Lies Bleeding filters a study of sex, violence, and the limits of human will through a romance that begins in a New Mexico gym.

Books & the Arts / Beatrice Loayza