The brown skull of a mastodon in a museum, with two long tusks protruding beyond the frame of the photo.

Imagine the farmer’s sheer surprise as he struck
the skull, or pelvic bone, or tusk
with the point of the plow, and it was not another stone
to curse, to lift out and roll aside.

Which part was the first to see the light
after those millenia?
The yard-wide grin, every tooth in place?
The whimsy of tail?

The romanesque arch of backbone?
The ribs like a whales’s baleen?
The tusks, so uselessly huge, the body’s bulk
seems nothing more than counterweight?

We know it was alive once, trod the earth we walk,
breathed the air we breathe,
died the death we die,
yet it wears a man-made look,

the look of antique wood, varnished and dark.
And we think it should have once had wheels,
wheels with iron spokes and an iron rim and been
drawn by oxen, too graceless for horses’ work.

Or it should have been the scale model
of something many times its size that the pharaohs
never got around to build.
Or it should have been an armature,

a frame over which purple velvet and quilted satin
was draped, embroidered in gold thread,
bespangled, tasseled, and fringed,
between the tusks, a potentate’s pillow.

Or it should have been a siege-engine,
a primitive tank armored in stiff leather
and copper plates and rivets everywhere.
Or a farm machine, an ice age harvester.

But we know why we scarcely glance
as we pass the glass.
We know the musky smell.
We know the taste.


Photo by Eden, Janine, and Jim, used and adapted under CC.