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.