Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry and finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work has been selected to appear in Best American Poetry 2015 and in journals like American Literary Review, Drunken Boat, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and New Ohio Review. She's a recent recipient of a Literary Arts Fellowship from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and lives in Pocatello, Idaho, where she teaches creative writing at Idaho State University.

Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry and finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work has been selected to appear in Best American Poetry 2015 and in journals like American Literary Review, Drunken Boat, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and New Ohio Review. She's a recent recipient of a Literary Arts Fellowship from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and lives in Pocatello, Idaho, where she teaches creative writing at Idaho State University.

NOTES ON READING FROM THE AUTHOR:

When I was pregnant the first time, I went on a feral child narrative reading kick. I needed something to offset What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Babies are cute, but to me they are also inscrutable, howling little creatures. That’s a little dramatic, but starting a family has made me more aware of where we draw lines between what we consider domestic and “safe” and what we consider wild. The wild animals that do enter the speakers’ domestic settings in these poems—the German Shepherd, the feral cats at the resort—aren’t really threats so much as reminders of an external world beyond the speaker’s control. Their misfit presence reveals what might be the deeper threat to the speaker, the nonspecificity that can consume domestic relationships if we’re not vigilant. I just realized that in both poems, there are couples just trying to eat nice meals. And who can blame them? But the poems are worried about what happens when they get too comfortable.

WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE AND/OR STRANGEST PLACE TO WRITE?

I like to write either in bed or in restaurants/bars, preferably ones with TVs on in the back-ground, playing stuff I’m not really interested in. Those seem like opposite venues, but their in-formality is useful to me when I’m generating material. When I’m sitting at a desk, I feel more officially poetic, which is bad news for my poems. I don’t think I’ve written anywhere particu-larly odd, but I’ve written on things that ended up being interesting to the poems, like on the back of my baby’s growth report, or in the margins of a National Geographic article about Admiral Byrd.

 

Resort

 

I think I’m supposed to turn right
somewhere         but you don’t
tell me where until it’s too late             

the rental car is huge and
the road signs hard to read       especially
when I’m busy eying iguanas

and whatever luscious flowers
are zooming past          we’re out
of any data plan’s range           

 we’ve been married long enough
to stop hearing the specifics

and just get the general shape

 of what we’re saying        the sign
on the island’s animal shelter
announces puppies are available                 

 but what about the swollen-teated
strays loping through the
alleyways          untended so long

 it’s hard to call them
dogs      I know the gated resort
is not real life          the condo’s

 framed prints so generic we have
the same ones in our bedroom
at home           but I’m not ready

 to try the tiny city markets     
their small dark doors made smaller
by large men leaning against

 the frames      they know exactly
where to stand             how could
the two of us fit through

 I don’t even know what
I’d find inside        everything
stacked on unfamiliar shelves  

would I recognize
the labels         when did I stop
thinking I could navigate through

 any open door       when did I
stop thinking of myself
as woman and start thinking

 wife        it’s our last day
before we find the big touristy
grocery store         we’d been

 circling the roundabout
the wrong way       seeing only
the warehouse’s oily back

 and not the abundant brightly lit
parking lot out front         that night
thin cats slip through

 the resort gates and circle
our legs under the table        
at the oceanfront restaurant    we don’t

 shoo them but kind of wish
they’d go away later
like separate islands        we wake

 under crisp bleached sheets
and wonder for a moment

where we are          sailboats

 have moored in the bay          I know
by now some animal is always
skittering at the dock        nosing

 for what’s been dropped          across
the giant bed I can almost

reach your back

 

 

Savage at the Table

 

None of those couples in restaurants are speaking
to each other. Except maybe, is your food too hot?

 I’ve read that orphans in early 18th century France
could expect to be supplied one meal a day and

 no coffin if they died. Before the French savage
boy was caught, he roamed the mountains

 where villagers left scraps for him on doorsteps.
Last winter, I watched a German Shepherd nose

 around our neighbors’ yard. Retired, they’d gone
somewhere warmer for the winter. The dog, sleek

 and collared, snuffled through snow.
When the French savage was brought in,

he was shuffled between institutions. Finally,
a couple took him in, taught him to set three places

 at the table. Someone else was trying to teach him
how to speak. It wasn’t working. All winter

 I narrated to the baby every action whether
he cared or not. I made minutiae into questions: Is that

 your spoon? Where is your nose? The rest of me
climbed farther back inside. One morning, the dog

 pushed past me when I opened the front door.
It was suddenly in my house. It grinned. I did not offer it

 a bowl. I told it to go home. It did not listen and
went farther down the hall. It wagged its tail

 near the nursery. How quickly can goodwill transform
inside walls when no one’s watching? After the husband died,

 the savage still set three places at the table. The wife
would clear one away and sit back down and eat.

 The boy would smile. Did she never tell him to leave
or did she want him there? I never saw that dog again.  Later

 it occurred to me he might have belonged to someone squatting
in the neighbors’ empty house. Hadn’t I seen light

 flicker through the windows? Weren’t those more than
pawprints in the snow? I was sure there’d been

 some sign. My husband didn’t know. How frustrated
the teacher: Why couldn’t the savage say

 he wanted milk instead of just being grateful
it was given? Though the book doesn’t say, I imagine

 what it’s like to dine with those tablemates:
a blank slate, an empty space. In the spring, weeds

 mark up the neighbor’s lawn, and here I am
still talking. Of course their dumb scarecrow

 slouches in weathered overalls. Why won’t anything
respond? There is no garden. The neighbors

 are still gone though they hung pie plates
to keep the crows away. I’d say it’s high time

 to throw those plates away, but then I remember
how much was broken in that sudden noisy fight,

 that wrenched-open door, its knob busting through
the blank white wall behind it. Remember thinking

 please don’t let the baby wake. He didn’t. But something
was let in. I should have seen the tracks leading up

 into the house. I should have thought of the right
words to say to keep it from settling in our place.