In The Auction House- London
I came in with no means for buying-
false pretenses, possibly, but a hunger
to look that was unabashed and genuine.
I walked on a carpet more elaborate
than anything seen outside a museum.
Soft, so soft through my soles.
Thin Arabic deer giving milk to their foals
delicate, repetitive nurslings
run round a red field.
In the centre, tagged for bidding,
a gold ormolu desk two hundred years old.
Gilt angles play pillar to a top of leather
as old as my nation, still unbelievably soft.
My fingers thirsted for it
with something like lust,
imagining the poems.
I had not been planning to touch,
but my clothes, my presence here,
lent me the right to it.
I rifled the drawers.
On the centre of the desk
stood a stand of elephant ivory.
It was elaborately carved
in a white-mans idea of the tribal,
specially made for the thing
that nested atop it.
The thing was an egg,
the same familiar colour and shape
as the white hens eggs in my kitchen,
a full foot tall, half-inch of shell,
porous as orange skin, hard as slate,
cracked all over, rehinged in glue from 1701.
I knew what it was,
I had seen pictures in books.
The Elephant Bird, an eight foot tall,
mighty thighed monster.
An eater of men.
I saw a painting once,
head bald like a vultcher,
saurian eye, serrated jaw
that might be a beak
in the same way
that my eye-tooth is a tusk.
The picture I saw
featured a leaf-adorned native,
standing calm beside it,
whose head rose to the level
of the claw-ended wings.
Such a thing overlapped, once, with us.
Such a creature fed on our red flesh,
and we fed on it.
It would have been a noble act
to plunge your spear-tipped arm
into its bowels, blood to the elbow.
It would have been an honor to die
in the struggle, that unchickenlike beak
driven into your brain like an inescapable thought.
The last one was shot by a hunter
a few years before the glue
which patched this specimen
was cooked by a servant.
He had no idea what he had done.
He couldn’t have. He was a nobleman
with no concept of knighthood.
He saw a dragon that could be slayed
without sweating. He took aim
Tomorrow, people whose banks say
that they are worth more than a small nation
will raise a paddle for this sliver of history.
They will bear their trophy home,
as if they had earned it.
Mount it high on a shelf.
They will imagine that they own it,
that they posses it, that they own
anything at all any more
than I own this body
or the thoughts that inhabit it.
They will have no idea
of what passed through our hands.
What treasures we lose
with the easiest motions.