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Laura Fargas’ poems convey great optimism in the face of greater odds and consider the possibility for good amid more-talked-about evil. “…I may spend/all of tomorrow trying to rehang a leaf,” Fargas writes in “Timshel,” a poem originally published in the Georgia Review. “Timshel” attracted the attention of Walter McDonald, an editor at Texas Tech University Press (TTUP), who invited the poet to participate in the 1996 TTUP First-Book Competition. Fargas, pragmatic yet hopeful as ever, submitted her manuscript for An Animal of the Sixth Day; she won, and her prize was publication in hardcover format.

According to the Book of Genesis, all the mammals came into being on the sixth day, all the cold-blooded creatures a day earlier. In her title poem, Fargas reflects that Abel would not kill Cain out of concern for his parents, but that the murderous Cain was “…like an animal of the fifth day/that cannot suffer pity.” Her book brims with such scholarly Biblical references, but doesn’t endorse a belief system. “I’m a serious Catholic…but I’m politically pretty left-wing,” says the author. “You can see in the book that I’ve done a pretty fair amount of reading in other areas, especially Zen Buddhism….It isn’t that I have a particular theology to sell.” She’s equally fond of secular allusions to nature, mythology, the laws of science, and the impermanence of leaves. Almost all of the long poems in the book were written in a long outburst in the autumn—”I was up in the woods with leaves falling,” Fargas says, to explain her fixation on foliage. “And I think autumnally….I think of life as a kind of transience.”

Fargas wishes she could spend more time communing with nature, but for the moment she bides her time at home on Capitol Hill. A D.C. resident since 1978, Fargas works in appellate litigation at the Labor Department. The federal bureaucracy might seem at odds with the muse, but Fargas’ varied background includes degrees in comparative literature and classical Greek, law school at Penn, and the Iowa Writers Workshop; she sometimes teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. Like William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor and a poet, she stubbornly sees nothing unusual about her career choices. “It’s the conceptual end of the law—you spend most of the time thinking about ideas and issues,” she says. “On appeal, you’re arguing about the relevant principle of law….You’re dealing in abstractions. Now, poetry is in real danger if it becomes just a series of beautiful abstractions…but you can make a case that the law is a series of abstractions as well.” Fargas reads from An Animal of the Sixth Day at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at Chapters; she’ll be joined by Charlottesville, Va., poet Gregory Orr, author of City of Salt. CP