» Poetry

Natural Order

I’m a little more prairie than you, Mom.
Grew up a stone’s throw from winding,


forested trails. Trees arched over gravel
roads, and the place in the powder sky


where their branches met, a cathedral ceiling.
You buried downed birds in shallow graves,


in a vacant lot by your apartment. I watched

a whole deer decompose in a field. Made a school


project of her. Every quarter, on my class trip

to buckthorn country, to the task of weeding-out


invasive plant species, I saw the same doe
sink deeper into the ground. Drew her outline


on a worksheet more and more skeletal
with each visit to her muddy bedside. Mom,


you too have watched the seasons change.
Your childhood rotted into caretaking,


like a sun-bleached cordgrass giving
its whole self back to the ground.


When you were seven, you started buying
the family’s groceries each week—


cans of beans stacked in a bike basket,
cradled by cornstarch and white flour.


In elementary school, all my teachers
had the same four-pronged chart


of the seasons: spring turned
summer, then a gentle decline


into fall and a snowman

smiling through winter.


Nothing in nature actually follows

this pattern. A field mouse breeds


too many young, swallows
half of them back into herself.


Jacqui Zeng

Jacqui Zeng is a poet from the Chicago suburbs. Her poems appear in Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, Natural Bridge, Nightjar Review, and in the anthology Rust Belt Chicago. She received her MFA from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She is the current social media editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal.