When glaciers trapped a third of Earth’s water and drained the Bering Strait, humans
journeyed to this land where wind swept the steppes of snow, exposing grass
that would be plucked by mammoth trunks and ground by washboard teeth.
Up to thirteen feet, their tusks curved helically and would intertwine if they went on
a little longer. The beasts’ dense hair—brown, blonde, or ginger—swung like a skirt
about their flanks. I want to rest my head against that shaggy coat, to crane
my ears, to be protected from the giant short-faced bear. I want to be
their baby, wrap my trunk around my mother’s, watch the wild horses of Beringia
canter across the steppes in tawny, fine-boned movements. The thick fat
under my hair keeps me warm when the sun goes low, and I grow into
an eight-ton bull, pierce the ice with my tusks and drink from glacial pools.
The wind is bitter, but my strongest features have grown bigger than my father’s.
When summer comes I must find a mate, and it only takes a few tusk locks to show
my strength. After our calf is born, I see upright creatures eyeing him from the mesa.
I will fling them against the icy mountains. They wear our hair as if it were
their skin. Still, I will live through many winters, through each warm season’s
hardheaded matches. I know the range that slopes like the hump on my back, sunsets
redder than the long-toothed cat’s gorging mouth, how musk oxen form a wall of horns
and still fall prey to the blade thrown. I know how many herds have fled, and the curves
of carcasses stripped to bone by men, wind, and time. I do not know that I am gone.