Pamela Alexander

Adirondak, c. 1880

Mohawks’ name for neighboring Algonquins

Shuffled, turned, curtsied. No response. Shuffled
her grotesque waltz. Dust lifted,
yellowed her.

Before the light bulb.
Before hard roads.

Before the light bulb dazzled us
from sleep, before machines drove us.

At human speed, in day’s own light, they looked
for her: the man needing her most,
his two friends. She was his livelihood.
He was hers.

No tracks in the dry duff; no rain
since June.

She would starve, certainly.
Or be shot by hunters.

So they walked, calling. He tapped
her tambourine. The older friend, half bark-eater
half white, thought some scat was hers.

The only animal in North America
that can walk upright, like us.

Of course she was not human, though he missed her
like a wife; nor animal if by animal we mean
a creature who plunges at food, into it,
without words, with only

the audible shimmer of insect, the suck
from tree crotch of honey and wax
and struggling bees

or fish ripped from spawn-swarm.

Late on the second day they found her, fur
thickened with dust, eyes dull, still
performing for the trees.

He took the frayed rope and led her
to the trail—not far, they’d searched too widely—
led her past the fence with posters of her dressed to kill
in hat and kerchief (a tablecloth).

She knew a few words. He said them, she made
her heavy dance, was fed.

He slept on straw, didn’t dream
of cities lit by wires, of men
who could not travel by the stars.

Pamela Alexander is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Slow Fire and Inland. Among her honors are the Yale Younger Poet award and the Iowa Poetry Prize. After teaching at M.I.T. for many years, she joined the faculty of Oberlin College.