Song for the Woolly Mammoth
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.
Copyright © 2018 by Lauren Moseley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 22, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“I’ve been working on a series of poems on extinct animals, the Ice Age, and present-day wildlife and the environment. While conducting research, I fell so hard in love with woolly mammoths that my speaker became one. I’m aware that George Church and other scientists are attempting to resurrect the woolly mammoth through feats of genetic engineering but, for this poem, I wanted to capture what life might have been like for the mammoths that roamed 13,000 years ago on the Bering Land Bridge, now under water, which when exposed by lowered sea levels allowed animals and humans to travel from modern-day Russia to North America.”
Lauren Moseley is the author of Big Windows (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2018).
Date Published: 2018-10-22
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/song-woolly-mammoth