40 YEARS OF CUTBANK: “Strange Litany” by Katie Peterson

Strange Litany

By Katie Peterson

Originally published in CutBank 68

Ask me anything. I’ll never say

I don’t want to talk.

This isn’t to say

there’s no principle of selection.

I exclude what I like.


Now you ask about the soul.

Monarch with a hole

in the northwest corner

of its wing, a tatter

in the fabric, flying like that.

I should have expected it.

But the question: do you think

your soul is female? I could

never have expected, being

female, unused to you

or anyone else

using my name

to call me what I am.


End of summer, look how

I’ve turned you

into what I want. Beginning

of fall, first angular horizons,

look at the leaves of the aspens,

their backsides ready for it.

What turns around makes everything

a curtain on a stage

about to open up.


Queasy with sleepiness, right

before lunch, I watched

the monarch which had gone

to twice its size expand

its wings slower than it ever had.


I’ve a friend who says

the lamas of Tibet

find it comical

how much we hate ourselves.

I’d like to shift

from this shape

not out of hate but from delight.


But I’m not answering

any more questions.


I think you know, from what my legs did

and from the cry I made

how much I’d like

to become something else.


Ask me that way from here on out.


Katie Peterson teaches creative writing and the humanities at Deep Springs College. She was born in California and is the author of a book of poems, This One Tree (New Issues, 2006).