What is?

The dverse prompt this evening is to throw grammar out of the window. For me, lack of grammar isn’t human, it’s animal speech. This poem (?) is inspired by my new surroundings and the start of five months at least of hunting. I am uneasy hearing guns popping off all day, and I have a dog that was dumped because he was a lousy hunter. Both of us prick our ears and cower when they’re at it.


Be still


leaf drip beyond

and branch crackle

crickle steps.

What is?

Ears hold the pain of is and need to run.

Is hurt and fearful in the trees drip-leafed and wet.

Dogs yelp mouths open teeth-full and fierce.

What is?

I dog and I fearful like is.

Come leave go

from this place of crack-branch dog cry and the is in pain and fear.

Come home where the boom boom don’t crack and pain the ears.

Where we can no longer hear the whimper whine of is.

What is?

I is.

I was is



Come away


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

71 thoughts on “What is?”

  1. I think I get this one, because I think it’s the dog talking, but I am really struggling with this prompt. Not my thing at all. Or maybe I’m not feeling playful tonight.

    1. I had trouble too. The only way round it was to use animal speech. To my mind, you can be inventive with existing grammatical rules, but without rules at all, the language falls apart.

  2. I think you are right that lack of grammar may be the way we would view animal speech, not human speech. However, I also suspect animal communication is better than we think it is.

    1. Human language is based on complex rules of speech. Animals use their bodies, gestures as much as noises. It’s not the same way of communicating, but it’s probably as you say, far more effective than we imagine.

      1. Now that’s funny. I imagine Cat as very elaborate and elliptical. Anyway I loved this work and how it made me fill in and imagine. There is room in the gaps, and content of them is full of alternative thoughts and potential.

      2. I admit, the cats I live with at the moment are possibly not representative of the species. They lead very uneventful lives and only ever seek out human company when they decide it’s food time. Trixie talks a lot, but it’s always about food and the lack of it, or the time it’s taking to appear. The little cat just looks. Very slowly.

      3. After almost 40 years of being a cat parent, I’ve seen a variety of personalities and your cat Trixie reminds me of Jasper, no interest in me except for food, and at the other ends of the scale, Luna, with an anxiety disorder, and Martok, our current, a bright spirit. They would certainly give very different accounts of life at our house…

      4. We’ve had male cats that have been more human-friendly and because they were very independent, they gave the impression of hanging around because they liked us. The girls just walked in and took over. Woe betide anyone who tries to tell Trixie she shouldn’t be on the bed…

  3. Very creative–I once belonged to a group who wrote “dog poetry”, always from the anima’s POV. We called ourselves a pack of “dog poets”; smile.

  4. Superb sounds in this, Jane – yes, ‘Ears hold the pain of is and need to run’. I love ‘crickle steps’ and ‘crack-branch dog cry’ and ‘the whimper whine of is’.

      1. I don’t think we have pheasants. It isn’t the right habitat, but there are lots of roe deer and wild boar. It’s open season on foxes anyway so there’s always someone dealing death.

      2. I don’t like it either, but it seems to be such a part of every rural community everywhere in the world that it’s hard to criticise it. I’ve met a few of the hunters round here and they are perfectly pleasant men. Takes all sorts I suppose.

  5. I’m sorry to hear you have landed in such an environment. It would drive me mad! I don’t suppose there’s any way the hunting can be stopped? The poem is lovely though.

    1. I don’t know of any rural area where there isn’t hunting. When we lived in the north we had the kind of hunters who live in villages and put on paramilitary gear to do it. They were scary people. The hunters here seem to be just normal farming people who shoot things because they see it as regulating the animal populations. In one way they have a point. We have produced a countryside for human beings. The wildlife has to fit in with the human use of it, leave the crops, the chickens and the sheep alone or their numbers have to be ‘regulated’. It’s hard to criticise when there is a weight of tradition behind it, but I don’t have to like it.

      1. I’m also in a rural area but it isn’t as you describe. The only animals persecuted – for want of a better term – are the baboons who can destroy large swathes of the commercial pine plantation and that is campaigned against by various activist organisations.

      2. You must live in a very enlightened country 🙂 Where are you? When I lived in the urban north of England, there was hunting not with packs of hounds but with lurchers and terriers. In the countryside it was fox hunting with horse and hounds and pheasant shooting. In the US I don’t know that they even have closed seasons for hunting. I’m pleased to hear that there is somewhere killing for fun doesn’t exist.

      3. 🙂 Yes I am! It’s unfortunately NOT and enlightened country. There are many areas where legal and illegal hunting carries on. We have here what we call ‘canned’ hunting. The owners of wildlife, particularly privately owned game reserves, will chase a lion for instance into an enclosure so some dude can go home with a skin. It’s a multi-million Rand (our currency) industry. Paid for in any currency. But the little spot where I am, in the northern parts of South Africa is tranquil. We have small deer strolling around, which even come into our yards if we leave the gates open. The hunting that does happen isn’t by far at the rate you are talking about though. I’ve just been for a short walk and found evidence of baboons, duiker (small deer) and other smaller animals I couldn’t identify. The monkeys are both lovable and a complete pest. There are jackals here as well but no-one here owns livestock so it isn’t a problem. I’m lucky.

      4. That’s the big problem. We love wildlife as long as it suits us. If there’s the slightest conflict of interest, the animal gets it in the neck and there are always people (men and women) who are pleased for the excuse to carry out the executions. They have reintroduced wolves into some parts of France and the sheep farmers are bleating (no pun intended) about the number of sheep killed by wolves. Does anyone ever point out to them that the mountain is for everyone, not just herds of commercially reared sheep? If you take away an animal’s natural food supply by hunting or posioning it (because it’s vermin) the predators have to eat something else. There is no room on this planet for anything but people, and no site of natural beauty is safe from tourists. You have the worst type of all—the big game cowards. Scum of the earth. I’m glad you’re in a place where the animals can get on with doing their own thing in peace.

      5. ”big game cowards. Scum of the earth” You said it! The tourists are a brand of vermin by themselves. I once chased 18, yes eighteen, Germans from the top of the waterfall a while ago. Draped themselves all over it. If one of them fell there’d have been hell to pay. I heard about the wolves being reintroduced and was so glad for them. Then I read later permission was given to shoot them again! I was furious – and furious at my impotence at doing anything about it. Wolves are so maligned yet they are amazing animals! I can’t stand humans lording it over the animals. We’ve so much to learn from them.

      6. Exactly my sentiments. The farming lobby is like your tourism lobby—you can’t say anything against them. If any of your Germans had fallen in there’d have been an international incident with demands for barriers to be put up around all waterfalls and high rocks so that idiots can take selfies on them without killing themselves.
        There is a way for us all to live together but it won’t happen as long as vested interests are seen as the ‘reasonable’ voice, and the animal rights and protection people are seen as cranks.

    1. I can’t see human language without rules of grammar. Made up words, yes, and accepted literary changes of word order, but if you take out the rules completely you get gibberish. I don’t get that any more than I get much of modern art. Just old-fashioned I suppose.

  6. Jane, I truly love what you’ve done here based on the prompt challenge. Throwing away grammar is exactly it. The style of it and the use of dog is amazing and scared me. You did an excellent job.

    See, this is why I too, have posted my throw away grammar and it fits perfect. Now, everyone knows how I feel when I write in throw away experimentation grammar. 🙂

    1. Thanks Charlie 🙂 Dog seemed appropriate to me because it’s sort of basic, language stripped back to the essentials. It wouldn’t occur to me to write like this for a human being, unless it was for someone like the narrator of The Sound and the Fury.

  7. Great job with this prompt. I can really relate to this one….even without my second cup of morning coffee 🙂 Some, I’m having trouble finding a meaning anywhere.
    These opening lines grab my attention and engage the reader
    leaf drip beyond
    and branch crackle
    crickle steps.”
    I find myself doing just that, listening to your words here.
    Having once lived in the Iowa countryside, and having gone through opening morning of pheasant season far too many times, I can relate to this. We finally took our dogs and left our farmland the night before this crazy day, stayed in a pet-friendly hotel that night and all the next day…only coming home after dark on that day. Far too many hunters began their day with breakfasts that included alcohol…then put on their neon vests and tramped the downed cornfields with their guns, trying to scare up pheasant. Far too many times, livestock or a dog were “mistaken” in their rustling of the corn stubs and took the bullets meant for birds. Oh my….you’ve rustled up those memories!

    1. There was a kid had his head blown off by his grandfather the other day. When you’re in the woods, and something moves, you take a shot at it, even if you’re half blind and haven’t noticed there’s somebody standing in front of you. I really hate this casual approach to killing. Even if you accept that some species are ‘vermin’ or ‘destructive’ (I don’t) does that give someone the right to kill them whenever and wherever they fancy?

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