Yuribey River, Siberia, May 2007


The riverbank swallowed a month-old mammoth

calf, folded her under while her sisters
watched the sky’s benign orbital predations

its vagrant meteors blinking out targetless.

There was no mass annihilation, no crash
or crater, just her one misstep, a slipped stone

then mud bloom. No concussive tide no

flash flood that rafted the herd to sea
a humped and matted island, the ridged

lumps of our dorsal folds cragged to bear

darker unmoored winters. Her mammoth
body cast the earth hollow as her windpipe

choked beyond the grasp of sounder trunks.

I didn’t save her. She never called me back
her bronchia branching with silt, the cry

refurled in her chest. When the sons

of hunters lifted her limp and slumped
shrugged against her own resurrection

they called her Lyuba, for their mother

the way we all name our dead for our loves
our ghosts for our debts. Threadbare, nearly

coatless, her undercarriage creases deep

as an open palm: one forked line to mark her
thirty-five lived nights, a vertex split to predict

the epochs through which the river stilled

her from decay. Another line to reel her back
unburied, stitch the bitten tail, fix the chewed ear

snake the mud from her throat, bind her hide

to this life and not the next. From the thawed
banks of the Yuribey, Lyuba moors me, cranks

the yawn of her jaw, flats her hairless cheek to dam us

dry beyond the flood plain. I could press
my thumbs to the nubs of her tusks, hold her

like the river holds the torn mouth of the delta.