by Naomi Shihab Nye
At the 100-year-old National Elk Refuge
near Jackson we might ask,
How long does an elk live?
Who’s an old elk here?
We’d like to spend time
with an elder elk, please.
Tell us how to balance our living
on this hard edge of human mean,
mean temperatures, what we do and don’t
want to mean. Closing the door
to the news will only make you
stupid, snapped my friend
who wanted everyone to know as much
as she did. I’m hiding in old school books
with information we never used yet.
Before I drove, before I flew,
before the principal went to jail.
Sinking my eyes into tall wooden
window sashes that lined the light
arriving from the far reaches of goodness,
wisdom of the ages, our teachers
as shepherds, school a small vessel
of held golden light, you could lift
up your daily lesson in front of your eyes,
gaze into it and think, this will take me
important places. O crops of India,
geological formations of Australia,
ancient poetries of China,
someday we will be aligned in a place
of calm knowing, together.
Red deer, wapiti, running elk rising
above vast yellow meadows at sundown.
An elk bows her head. In the company
of other elk, an elk becomes his best elk.
But we are lost on the horizon now,
deeper into the next century than we
can even believe, and they will not speak to us.