Woolly mammoth at Royal BC Museum

Two Poems by Clara McLean

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Bring Back the Mammoth

He longs for her return, the man
from Harvard. He’s come back from

the freezer of the North, bearing
the plangent bones, the cells

so preciously suspended. 
This was the gift

of permafrost, melting now
across the Siberian steppe,

and spitting out its treasures one by one,
slick as sucked lozenges.

The cold’s been kind
to science, cradling its charges

through the ages, maternal
as Buttercup—the name they

gave her—who would have carried
ten calves or so, each one

for two years, in the nave
of her pelvis, and died

40,000 years ago, mouth
full of tiny flowers. How long,

he thinks, we have been waiting
for each other. All I’ve wanted was

to stroke your colossal flanks,
know the girth

of miracles, and I myself
miraculous. In an age

of diminishment, to resurrect
extravagance, a time

when looming figures loped
across a great inviolate garden,

their tusks so wantonly
long and curved:

arched up toward the sky
as in amazement,

or bowing out in front,
as if in welcome.



First, There is a Mountain

There: clear in your window. Stretch out your hand—
steady me. Touchstone mountain, Tamalpais.
Trace its blue-green ridges leaning north. So clear and then:
no mountain. It’s lost in the marine churn’s whiteness.

Steady me. Touchstone, sentry, Tamalpais.
You operate on faith, as if, persist in your belief in it.
No mountain’s lost in the foggy whiteness.
See—it’s back. Brazen on a blue day, isn’t it?

Your eyes are tricked, but you hold faith in it
when, in low fog, it levitates: a mountain miniature.
Just the peak, severed and floating—see it?
Faults the mountain sits upon will shear it in the future.

Low fog: it splits and shrinks, a mini mountain. Air-
shifts can make a mountain nothing much.
The faults it’s on will slice it in the future,
but sound like trivial mishaps: strike-slip, blind-thrust.

In time, earth’s spills and sputters nothing much.
Ravines cut down Tam’s face like rain in slants.
Earth-shifts will crack the mountain—strike-slip, blind-thrust—
their names like momentary accidents.

Sun-lit ravines slope down like slants
of rain, but they are not rain. Dry mountain.
Years of mounting fires, no accident.
The heat rolls in: the sky goes ash, or crimson.

No rain nine months or more, dry mountain.
No mountain, none at all, not even the peak, when,
each year now, the air turns ash or crimson.
Inside, our joys grow tiny, closed-in.

No mountain. It’s blotted out completely, days when
even the outstretched branch leaves no shadow.
Our joys grow smaller, shuttered in.
Still there? It’s blank through smoke-grey windows.

Some days the grey’s too thick for shadows.
You drive, in winter, through the burn-scarred forest.
Still there, through fogged car windows,
though trees look sieved in ash—pine, oak, fir.

You hike the nearby burn-scarred forest.
On both sides, crow-black trunks rise, ghostly.
Whole groves seem sieved with ash—pines, oaks, firs.
Up close, though, trails still drip with whimsy:

towering redwoods rise in ancient, ghostly
immanence; the dust sprouts monkeyflower, adder’s tongue.
The mountain drips with present and past whimsy,
once roamed by saber tooth and mastodon,

whose dust sprouts rattlesnake, redwood, adder’s tongue.
The rattler grows a layer of tail each time it sheds its skin.
Becoming, unbecoming. It lives, like saber tooth and mastodon,
untempted to torch the earth it moves upon.

Rattlesnake’s tail renews, grows each time it sheds its skin.
Becoming, unbecoming. Here, now: stretch out your hand.
Touch the unsteady earth you move upon.
Its blue-green ridges. Your horizon.




Clara McLeanClara McLean lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier poems have appeared in Rattle, Cider Press Review, Foglifter, West Trestle Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, and other publications. Catch up with her at claramclean.com.

Read “Three Portraits in Feathers,” a poem by Clara McLean also appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo of woolly mammoth by Mammut, from the Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, courtesy Wikimedia. CC 2.0.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.