a poem by Thomas Davis
Mexican red wolves stalk him.
The old man stops, listens to silence, sniffs air,
then turns, a great rack of horns growing suddenly out of dark hair,
his body thickening, elongating, black hooves where his feet were.
Wolves come into the sun struck meadow,
eyes alive with the hunt, tongues lolling out of open mouths as they run.
The old bull elk starts, crashes into aspen trees surrounding the meadow,
slams mountain earth with hooves, puffs of smoke
wisping behind enormous bounds as he flies uphill
toward the mountain peak’s dark rock and white snow.
As the elk flees the wolves run even lower to the ground,
blue and brown eyes riveted to the elk’s trail,
breaths deep and full as they run after their prey.
For hours the chase goes on.
The afternoon sun climbs to its zenith and blazes.
The elk moves from aspen to pine and spruce
into matted falls of timber in forests untouched by humans.
The wolves run in silence, intent on their hunt, howls held back
until the moment when they can leap on the great elk’s back
and bring it staggering violently toward the ground and death.
Then the elk, within sight of the tree-line and its stunted pines,
leaps into a circle of pine, spruce, and aspen
past rock ovens made with piled stones.
He jumps up on a massive sandstone platform built in the circle’s center.
Bluebirds, a golden eagle, sparrows, a great horned owl fly
out of the elk’s brown fur, the dark fur on its chest.
Jack rabbit hind legs thumping ground breaks silence.
Wind swirls inside the tree circle and sets aspen leaves,
deep grasses beside the sandstone platform, singing.
The great elk rises to its hind legs.
The wolf pack stops outside the circle of trees and glares fire
at the shrinking of the huge elk into an old man
with white hair and a back bent from hard years of living.
The wolf pack’s female leader steps hesitantly
toward the old man into the trees’ circle.
Inside the trees the wind swirls faster as the old man watches her.
Wolf hair transforms into human skin.
A young woman steps out of wolf shape
and stands with her slender right hand on one of the rock ovens.
Wolves outside the circle begin to howl;
their voices ring down mountain slopes,
shivering fear into mountain air, rock, and the snowy peak.
Clouds grow from sunlight into towering billows
that soar into late afternoon, blocking off the sun
and sending wind inside the trees
down and around the mountain and out into the world.
Roots start to grow out of the old man’s feet
into the barren density of sandstone.
Within seconds he stands as a ponderosa pine,
branches snaking out in different directions from the red trunk,
top branches so high they scrape the dark bottoms of thunderheads.
The young woman watches the old man becoming a tree.
Her face is as calm and serene
as a lake surface when the universe stops
and no ripple mars the water’s sky-mirror perfection.
She turns from the ponderosa pine
and turns toward the pack grown silent and watchful.
“The earth lives,” the woman says.
She lifts her arms and tips her head toward the cloud roiled sky.
White feathers spread over her body;
a black beak with a yellow bridge running to bird eyes grows out of her face.
She spreads snowy egret wings and folds black legs and yellow feet
behind her as she soars into fierce winds.
The pack howls and runs in mad circles away from the circle of trees,
the egret flying,
the ponderosa growing out of stone.
Originally published in Gallup Journey, January 5, 2011