A SLOTH FIRST HEARS ITS NAME
But why should it care? It munches
a cecropia leaf. It probes the air
with its blunt snout, detecting
a waft of sour coconut. It lumbers to a branch,
grabs hold with its claws, drops,
dangling upside down like a knapsack.
It doesn’t know to feel ashamed
that its name means lazy and sinful.
Like my little sister
after her abortion, when our father
changed her name from Molly to Molly.
Marianne Kunkel is the author of the chapbook The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press), as well as many poems that have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Notre Dame Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. A former managing editor of Prairie Schooner, she is an assistant professor of creative writing and publishing at Missouri Western State University, where she edits the undergraduate literary journal The Mochila Review. Follow her on Twitter @mariannekunkel.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is awesome for a myriad of reasons. Because it is about sloths (sort of). Because it is about words, about labels, about judgment and ignorant bliss. Because it vibrant both with images and with sound. Because it houses epic proportions in eleven short lines. Because its advocacy relies on neither a soap box nor a sense of superiority. But what is most striking about today’s poem, perhaps, is its volta. The way it turns the world of the poem on its head. The way it leaves the reader staggering, contemplative, changed.