Totem

By JANE SATTERFIELD 

Corby, England, 1972

What was so terribly frightening
about the dark wood elephant heads

that hung in my grandfather’s hall,
tusks aligned, trunks slightly upturned

at the end, as if signaling luck—?
Why was it that I could see nothing

auspicious in these ornaments passed on
from some outpost or tourist destination,

a memory-mirage of herds staking out
a silt-green watering hole? Veterans of

heavy labor, of human wars and menageries,
our zoo-caged “ambassadors of the species”

sway and shuffle through a single acre,
signaling their stress and boredom. Even in

sanctuaries, keepers find their charges
turn rogue or run away, great hooves

commanding seismic waves, herd-peace
punctuated by hit-squads or the hum of heat-

seeking shepherd drones. But I knew none
of this—I just had to summon nerve

each time I climbed the stairs and passed
beneath the still gaze of that uncanny

pair, captives in an English steel town
spruced up by roses and the rain.

 

[Purchase Issue 15 here.]

Jane Satterfield has received awards in poetry from the NEA, Bellingham Review, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Mslexia, and more. Her books of poetry are Her Familiars, Assignation at Vanishing Point, Shepherdess with an Automatic, and Apocalypse Mix, winner of the 2016 Autumn House Poetry Prize, selected by David St. John. She is married to poet Ned Balbo and lives in Baltimore.

Totem

Related Posts

Growing up

November 2020 Poetry Feature: David Lehman

DAVID LEHMAN
Science explained everything, / the workings of windshield wipers, for example: / “The darkness causes the rain / and comes from the rain, which goes up / to the sky and falls down again / on the windshield and the windows.

Pine tree at sunset

July on South St. (AEAE)

NICK MAIONE
I open the doors and windows and shut off the lights./ For a while I play tunes on the fiddle / shirtless in my dark house. I love doing this. / For the first time all day I am not at home. / For the first time since the last time / my body is the same size as my flesh.

Beach at dawn

Claudia Prado: Poems from THE BELLY OF THE WHALE

CLAUDIA PRADO
with one strong arm she turns the steering wheel / and hangs the other out the Ford’s window / ashing a cigarette that could set fire to the whole earth / two women crossing a plain changed / by that slant afternoon light / forget the child in the backseat...