When Adam Ate from the Tree of Knowledge,

    All The Animals Ate from It, Too

Nickole Brown

Of course it was he
who did the naming, my little king
strolling the loam, ducking under dripping boughs
pointing, you, over there, now you and you and you,
meaning, no, you’re not one of us, neither are you, so now
let me tell you what you are
, stuffing each catch with
taxonomies and syllables, displaying each in the cage
words make. I tried hard not to roll my eyes, followed along,
teased his arrogance by silly-making his labels, un-naming
his possum a bristled midnight whisker-did,
his raccoon a clutchy-pawed, rock-hopping fish-washer,
his chipmunk a racing-striped, seed-cheeking zinger
unzipping the brambles in a toothy squeakflash.
When he bristled, I backed off, softsaying,
Oh, my Adam. Always so serious, said nothing
of his un-miracling miracles,
each signified being ignorantly blinking
at the sound of their new name, refusing to come
when he called. Frustrated, he sped up
as an auctioneer might, faster and louder—
fox! wolf! cricket! grizzly!
lemur! toad! cicada! hawk!
and when I couldn’t resist, I said,
Oh, Adam, don’t you know? That eyelashed
fellow too tall to bend his knees, we just met him,
remember? Don’t call him
giraffe. His name is
. When he didn’t laugh, I quit
sassing, told him what was on my mind, said,
Look up in the trees, my upright clay thing, my loneliest
animal divided and dividing himself
from the rest. See that quivering, that common
acorn quizzer curving a question mark with his tail?
He’s telling you the beginning and end to everything
is a question, so don’t try to force answers, honey.
Don’t stomp the garden with your
dictionaries and schemes
. He was good and pissed
by then, ready to strike, so when I saw that diamond vine
smelling us with his tongue, I knew what to do,
knew only one thing to keep him
animal, to level the playing field.
Okay, okay, okay, I shushed.
Calm down. I’m sorry. Here,
try a bite of this

Nickole Brown headshotNickole Brown is the author of Sister, first published in 2007 and reissued in 2018. Her second book, Fanny Says, won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry in 2015. The audiobook of that collection became available in 2017. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville, NC, where she periodically volunteers at three different animal sanctuaries. Currently, she’s at work on a bestiary of sorts about these animals, but it won’t consist of the kind of pastorals that always made her (and most of the working-class folks she knows) feel shut out of nature and the writing about it. A chapbook of these poems called To Those Who Were Our First Gods won the 2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and another sequence called The Donkey Elegies was published as an essay-in-poems by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2020.