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Elk at Tomales Bay

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Nimble, preserved together,
milkweed-white rears upturned,

female tule elk
bowed into rustling foxtails.

Males muscled over the slopes,
jostling mantles, marking terrain.

Their antlers clambered wide,
steep as the gorges.  

As they fed, those branches twitched,
sensory, delicate,

yet when one buck reared
squaring to look at us

his antlers and his gaze
held suddenly motionless.

               Further out, the skeleton.

The tar paper it seemed to lie on
was hide.

               Vertebrae like redwood stumps—
an uneven heart-shaped cavern    

               where a coccyx curled to its tip.
Ribs fanned open

hollow, emptied of organs.
In the bushes its skull.

Sockets and sinuses, mandible,
its few small teeth.  

All bare now except  
that fur the red-brown color

of a young boy’s head and also
of wild iris stalks in winter

still clung to the drying scalp.
Below the eye’s rim sagged

               flat as a bicycle tire.

The form was sinking away.

The skin loosened, becoming other,
shedding the mask that hides

but must also reveal a creature.
Off amid cliffs and hills

some unfleshed force roamed free.
In the wind, I felt

the half-life I watched watch me.
Elk, I said, I see

               you abandon this life, this earth—

I stood for a time with the bones.


Source: Poetry (May 2011)
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Elk at Tomales Bay

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