We do not understand why they are dying,
but we know the disease spreads when they touch
so we let the tree frogs sing to us. We answer,
beckoning, faking mating calls to lure them
to our wet hands. We take note of their length
and weight and wounds, and put them in plastic bags.
Separated, their confused fingers press the surface.
This is not the body they longed for, no broad back
and speckled knees, no eggs waiting to release
and swell. But still, they sing like prisoners
with hands full of moonlight, and I want to quiet them,
the way, as a child, I broke a shell to keep it
from crying out for the sea. It is so loud here,
this country where a flower dreams of its color
before it opens, where we coax the sick from the trees.
Each morning I wake to kookaburras and a man stroking
a guitar, singing a song another man wrote about love.
At night, we transect creeks, eels skating our shins,
swollen leeches hooked to our calves as we shine
our flashlights on the banks. Everywhere we look
vines are choking the trees. They cling until they suffocate
the trunk beneath them, the strangler taking the shape
of what it has killed. Maybe some animals want to die
this way, to hold fast and feel something weakening
underneath them. Sometimes we interrupt the small male
in amplexus, gripping his lover’s generous back,
limbs freckled by sores, their pile of eggs, round
and imperfect. When we return to our tent, we take off
our clothes. This is not what we expected. We believed
in gristle, tendon and bone. Pathogen and host.
But we are minor kingdoms of salt and heat.
We trace each other’s scars-proof of our small
green hearts and violent beginnings, engines of cell
and nerve, yielding to this silent, lonely union.
Traci Brimhall is the author of three books of poetry: Saudade (Copper Canyon Press, forthcoming); Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton); and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, New Republic, Orion, and Best American Poetry 2013 & 2014. She teaches at Kansas State University and lives in Manhattan, KS.
“Noli Me Tangere” originally appeared in The Missouri Review, Issue 32.3 (Fall 2009): “Demons”