Donika Kelly


Donika Kelly is the author of the chapbook Aviarium (500 Places, 2017) and the full-length collection Bestiary (Graywolf, 2016), winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Bestiary was also long listed for the National Book Award and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, she earned her MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers and a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University. She is an assistant professor at St. Bonaventure University, where she teaches creative writing. Source


The tide pool crumples like a woman

into the smallest version of herself,

bleeding onto whatever touches her.


The ocean, I mean, not a woman, filled

with plastic lace, and closer to the vanishing

point, something brown breaks  the surface—human,


maybe, a hand or foot or an island

of trash—but no, it’s just a garden of kelp.

A wild life.


This is a prayer like the sea

urchin is a prayer, like the sea

star is a prayer, like the otter and cucumber—


as if I know what prayer means. 


I call this the difficulty of the non-believer,

or, put another way, waking, every morning, without a god. 


How to understand, then, what deserves rescue

and what deserves to suffer.




Or should I say, what must

be sheltered and what abandoned. 




I might ask you to imagine a young girl,

no older than ten but also no younger,

on a field trip to a rescue. Can you


see her? She is led to the gates that separate

the wounded sea lions from their home and the class.

How the girl wishes this measure of salvation for herself:


to claim her own barking voice, to revel

in her own scent and sleek brown body, her fingers

woven into the cyclone fence.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:





Literary Devices:


a break between words within a metrical foot


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing


a recurrence of the same word or phrase two or more times


a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”