David Shumate

Mangos | Talking Animals | Bringing Things Back From the Woods
December 12, 2013 Shumate David



We did not have mango trees back home on the prairies.  The climate and soil conditions were not conducive to that kind of crop.  I try to imagine my adolescence filled with such a fruit and all it might imply. People with mango trees in their backyards seem to lead more tranquil lives and don’t curse as much as those of us beset with blizzards. I suspect they are even privy to secrets of the universe yet to be revealed to me.  They say there are dozens of ways a mango can be squeezed or boiled or distilled to drink or rub over your skin and heal you from all kinds of plagues.  Though I still find it indiscreet the way people in the tropics go on and on about the erotic effects of this oblong fruit.  And how when you grow up under the shade of a mango tree, you get three virginities to lose instead of just the one.



Talking Animals


When the bears and wolves and foxes of our fairytales return to the woods flaunting their human hats and vests, their brethren pounce upon them and drive them away.  Most take refuge in our towns.  Eating from our gardens.  Patronizing our pastry shops.  Singing hymns in the back pews of our churches. They avoid romantic entanglements with humans since offspring from such affairs tend to be born with tails or paws. In the evenings they go to our pubs to play cards, ignoring the growling of guard dogs along the way.  If one gets sick, we tend to him as best we can, though our medicines often exacerbate their ills and our transfusions tend to pollute their blood.  When such a beast dies, we place him in a wooden box and hold a vigil through the night, recalling his wondrous exploits.  Then we gather our tubas and drums and make a slow procession to the forest’s edge.  There we set the coffin down.  And step quietly away. Trusting that somewhere deep in animal lore they too subscribe to a tale about a prodigal son.



Bringing Things Back From the Woods


Each time I wander into the woods, I bring something back with me. Antlers.  Toppled nests.  Stones smoothed by streams.  The mating call of a wren.  (Which doesn’t seem to work on humans very well.)  Sometimes I return imbued with the attitude of a tree and remain stationary for hours on end.  Lately the spirits of the forest have begun following me home.  Wiping their feet at our front door so as not to scatter their moss about.  Flipping our television on.  Bumping against my wife’s hip as she chops vegetables for a stew. Testing out the type of rain our shower makes. Rearranging my dreams with their lower branches as I doze. I sense they have instigated a rebellion among our wooden furniture making it nostalgic for the forest.  One of our oldest chairs is growing back its bark.  A beam that spans this side of the house has sprouted a dozen leaves.  And just today when I went to move my desk, it wouldn’t budge because its legs had taken root.

David Shumate is the author of three books of prose poetry, High Water Mark (2004), The Floating Bridge (2008), and Kimonos in the Closet (2013), all published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. His poetry has also been anthologized in The Best American Poetry and elsewhere.  He lives in Zionsville, Indiana, and teaches at Marian University.