Elk appear from where they were hidden,

sleeping in the tawny fall sedge. They chew

and stare past their lazy memory, grasses culled

below the subdivision, on the protected

headland, in all the wolfless meadows.

When we wake to their alien brays and whistles

of want haunting the night like loon calls,

it is the land, divided and tamed,

that unsettles. We came for the absence—

dark that reveals the stars, quiet

that unveils the voices of animals.

It takes time to wonder

what is missing, to hear how the land

whispers what is gone towards

what is leaving. One by one,

the elk wade and enter the salt river,

their heads tilt up and bob

with the effort of their paddling

hooves. They leave a layer of fur

floating like foam on the surface.

Once, people burned this headland

to sing back the salmon in the mouth

of the river, to spur and thicken

the grasses for grazing elk. Now

a barbed wire fence and a wooden sign

keeps people off the meadowed cliffs

above the sea. I find an opening and crawl

through, creeping between dried stalks

of asters, sunflowers, clumps of fall grass.

What lonely song spurs and quivers

as I walk towards the herd, watching

an ear flick, a tail lift, a back tilt

into stilled alert. When I smell

the rich privacy of musk, I open

the palms of my hands and all

at once, they rise and turn to see

what I am. Before they run, I sit

and hide in the tall grass, take

my eyes to the ground and try

to breathe myself into something still,

something harmless.