TANTANKA


While on one of my long walks
     that are a weekly compulsion
     to seek refuge from and purge the buzz
     of my daily bouts with civilization

I found myself wading deep
     through the shadowed remains
     of a dense climax forest
     spared from ax and plow
     by virtue of its steep and rocky terrain

As I climbed over a strewn
     of fallen stumps and decay
     I noticed the inconsistency
     of a couple of yards of hairy pelt
     matted and scraped and stained
     like a cryptic map

And while I stood there, curious
     trying to decipher that dark map
     I was startled when it heaved
     revealing the labored breathing
     of the large animal it covered

Cautiously I pulled back the debris
     from over this fallen monster
     wedged so tightly between great logs
     that it had long since ceased to struggle

I uncovered a huge head and short horn
     with one sad pool of eye
     on this side of his head
     pleading for help but also
     seeming to know it was too late

He made no sound but that long slow breathing
     and my astonishment subsided
     enough that I finally recognized
     his form -- Bison -- he was
     out of time and place, a buffalo
     hopelessly trapped in this pocket of lost forest

What could I do to ease his suffering?
     I dripped water from my canteen
     at his mouth, which opened enough
     that his huge grey-pink tongue
     could receive it, though not much
     before he closed it again

The one, so nearly human, eye that I could see
     seemed to show appreciation
     it blinked slowly then closed
     as if in resignation to its plight
     knowing that I was too small to release him.

I found that I was exhausted
     from this tragic encounter and
     moreover could not just leave him
     while he still drew breath
     so I lay down nearby and soon fell asleep

I awoke lying in deep grass
     with a pervading sense of warmth
     and satiation, lazing calmly

On hearing a rustle I turned to see
     that same dark eye from its standing hulk
     looking at me with recognition
     giving the reassurance of acceptance
     of a tireless sultry summer day

Suddenly his ears twitched and
     he picked up his head and snorted
     I felt it too, something in the air
     I stood up to discover that I was
     in a sea of grass and bison

A wave of excitement and fear swept us
     in the distance I heard a rumble
     we all started milling around
     walking first this way then that
     a cloud of dust grew on the horizon

Most of us started trotting in that direction
     the rumbling grew louder
     I was surrounded by sweating hairy flanks
     just one of thousands, compulsive
     I lost control over my own direction

The rumble became a roar
     the dust cloud was upon us
     we turned hard to the right
     and we ran - full out

Pounding hoof, pounding heart
     breathing dust and ferimone
     racing shoulder to flank
     nose to tail, one mammoth organism
     crashing over the plain

Such freedom, such power
     to be mindlessly part of this
     great tribe, all pervasive, undaunted

     *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Then I saw the horror, unspeakable
     I could not communicate or warn
     and they started falling all around me

In our midst was a string of
     railroad cars each surmounted
     by marksmen with their long rifles
     their temper belied by puffs
     of smoke from their breaches

And it all mixed together in hysteria
     the thundering hooves, the screaming locomotive
     the volley of explosions
     the whooping of the "sportsmen"
     the bellowing of death crashing under hoof

I stumbled over fallen bodies
     in the stench and madness
     I tumbled, over and over
     through an endless darkness
     I squirmed and twisted

I sat bolt upright, wrenched from my dream
     that horrid noise still ringing in my ear
     I shivered in the first light
     as my breathing finally slowed
     and my emotions returned from frantic

As the morning grew lighter
     I dared to crawl over to where he had been
     Bones!  long disincarnated bones
     mostly decayed but still recognizable
     with the hole in that huge skull
     staring straight into my soul

I wandered dazed from those woods
     unable later to retrace nor find that place
     yet to this day
     there is a dark sad eye that follows me
     staring back from my mirror and my dreams

I find that I no longer take well to crowds
     but would rather sit and watch
     the shadow-play of clouds over the plains
     imagining the disappearance
     of all fences and roadways....

                     - Paul Malécot
to Paul   to Moongate