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Lives of the Animals
Date of Review: 
Nov.23.2003
Published Work: 
Reviewer: 
Andrew Santella
Source: 
New York Times

The beasts get title billing in Robert Wrigley's sixth collection of poems, but Wrigley is most interested in what happens when his animals meet up with what he calls ''the biped, / broad-nailed, featherless master race.'' The poet himself stalks through these poems like a hunter, always on the periphery, striking an attitude of silent, stealthy watchfulness. In ''Explanatory,'' he stakes out an owl's nest, ''a Joseph's coat of hide and hair.'' In ''Agency,'' he spies on an injured doe hobbling with one leg ''dangling, a slender dead weight.'' In ''Elk Dreams,'' a solitary walker comes upon an elk cow birthing a calf and sees the animal's ''backside like a meaty rose unfold / and the calf come leapingly squeezed.'' Again and again, Wrigley encounters animals in crisis, until it seems that it is the poet's very presence that renders them vulnerable. The creatures themselves are presented in full visceral detail. In the poem ''Northern Lights'' alone, Wrigley offers us a slaughtered deer's ''slack, leaden anus,'' the ''pearly, diminishing ropes'' of its intestines and its ''sleek degreening pancreas.'' But even Wrigley's most clinical observations occasionally give way to intimations of immortality. Ants feasting on a dead buck in ''The Other World'' take on a nearly sacramental resonance. Beautiful and brutal, Wrigley's poems bear apt witness to the natural world.

Lives of the Animals