The Human Work of Animal Bodies

Laura Straub


Animal Bodies
David Courtright
Two Steps Press
39 pp

Those brave enough to follow David Courtright into his wilderness will get lost––in the fur, in a fury of bees, in the rings of a tree trunk, in the downy comfort of petalled flowers, in a mess of fallen leaves. His poetry is suspended in something mythic and strange to us now––tangled between flora and fauna in the ether. In the collection’s second poem, “The Tincture Will Not Reverse the Feathers,” he transforms into a bird:

my bones are emptying of marrow
now there are the hollow places
& my fingers grow too long & thin
to do human work

In his more traditionally formatted poems––single solid columns on the leaf––Courtright lays a path of breadcrumbs for his reader. This is an illusion of simplicity on a path of circuity. As the collection blooms the poems take brave new shapes. Courtright unabashedly experiments with format and it is a joy to watch him at work (as we would Ariel do Prospero’s bidding). “Fox Fire” is a poem three columns abreast and staggered. It can be read at least half a dozen different ways. “Mouth” is segmented into quatrains, tercets and singular lines on the page. It is best to leap between them instinctively and see where it takes you.

Perhaps the most stunning is “(Triptych)”––the centerfold of the collection. It is a poem with a wingspan that spreads across two pages, unabashedly transcending the limitations of its signature:

Its first few lines could be read as so:

with a deeper sense of / a new kind of you / & a more useful me
purpose we slipped / unannounced into / a category dimly formed

Or even:

With a deeper sense of
purpose we slipped
out of our old skins
away from each other

Or still, if you heed the binding:

With a deeper sense of / a new kind of you
Purpose we slipped / unannounced into
Out of our old skins/ a strange new me: us
away from each other / all undone like ribbon

These are worthwhile exercises. Each read is a singular experience. Courtright humbly reminds us that there is no clear path to anything in life, that our real story takes place as we wander.