26 January 2014


                   by Michael Ondaatje

In the medieval darkness of the Holland Tunnel
with luminous green paint, on whitewashed walls
of the Madrid zoo, in his think-fingered handwriting
onto dust at the dry Casablanca aquarium

                                   "When last I held you in my arms,
                                    my love, the West African Black
                                    Rhinoceros was still magnificent
                                    and still alive . . ."

What have you been doing to Paul Vermeersch?
He searched for you encyclpedically
in Albacete, in Zagora, in those cities
whose names have changed,
till the maps he relies on wear out.
In what disguise did you leave him?
So he will not recognize
your gait anymore,
or your stare out from a diorama.

Hunt and Torment. Call but no Response.
In the end words of love reveal
just yourself. Not why
or the wished-for thing. Only the Spanish
consider his plea, only the drivers
deep in a tunnel into New York
nod wisely, agree with him.
But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn,
not the person he held once in his arms.

When it is over, it is over
they say in the passing dark.
There are no longer great nostrils
to scent out the source of torment.
It is a generation since our love,
to justify anger, had a horn, a tusk.

The New Yorker, 1/13/14.

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