Contributor Spotlight: Pepper Trail

“The Ivories,” “Boat Burial,” and “Mother/Mars” by Pepper Trail appeared in Issue 20 and can be read here.

We’d love to hear more about “The Ivories.”

I work at a government forensics lab, identifying objects confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.  Every week, we examine items constructed from eagle feathers, rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and other remains of protected species. Some of the objects are beautiful, but all carry the invisible stain of violent death, and each contributes to the threat of extinction.  “The Ivories” came from a dream – a nightmare – of wandering through our ivory reference collection (“the repository of confiscated things”) and there encountering an elephant who takes entirely justified revenge on the human race.

What was the most difficult part of writing this poem?

I find it difficult to write poems based on my forensic work.  They generally suffer from one or the other of two contrary faults: either they are too “instructive,” and thus bloodless; or they are too emotional, and thus not artful.  With “The Ivories,” I tried to balance these two impulses with the two-stanza structure.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

The Apple Trees at Olema, by Robert Hass.  As a naturalist, I appreciate Hass’s meticulous attention to the details of the natural world.  As a poet, I marvel at his ability to weave those details into complex lyrical and narrative structures that illuminate the strange experience of being human.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?

A tough choice! Can I decide on the night, depending on my mood?  If I’m up for bar-hopping, with wide-ranging and dazzling conversation, I would choose Michael Chabon, my favorite living novelist.   If I feel like settling into the back corner of a wood-paneled bar and probing the deep questions of morality and human existence, it would have to be Wendell Berry, whose plain-spoken wisdom I return to again and again.  

What are you working on now? What’s next?

A collection of my recent work, An Empty Bowl, was published last year. Much of my current writing struggles with the challenge of making art from the grim materials of the political and environmental reality in which we find ourselves.  Every now and then, I take a break with purely lyrical nature poetry.

Our thanks to Pepper for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read Trail’s poems “The Ivories,” “Boat Burial,” and “Mother/Mars” here:


Trail’s poems have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Borderlands, and other publications, and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Awards. His collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.