|Anticipating This Year's Tasmanian National Thylacine Day
Today the thylacine is both a wraith and a warning, clad in a striped coat.
My first encounter with a thylacine,
and it's in the pages of an article,
telling me it's extinct.
I do not take the news well,
and melancholy enfolds me,
though I bravely coped with the passing
of the passenger pigeon
and the imminent departure
of the sheepnose mussel and its kin.
But a thyla, at sixty-five pounds, is the same
as our girl dog, and I confess a longing
to pet it. How tender
it must have been, when it prized apart,
with its forty-six teeth,
the skull of a wombat,
how charming as it trotted
an echidna to exhaustion.
Who wouldn't want one?
Mary Roberts kept some in a cage,
including Benjamin, probably the last
of her kind, though certainly not the first
misnomered, what with marsupial wolf,
Tasmanian tiger, and zebra dog
ventured as identifiers.
Yet "thylacine" seems wrong,
as if it might arrive with side effects,
to be listed cheerily in voiceover
and taken under doctor's orders.
Still, what's the point of quibbling
when the winsome beast is gone?
But then come tantalizing reports
that thylacines may only be victims,
la Twain, of hyperbole: sightings happen
all the timethough, granted, one
was just a brindled greyhound,
and they've almost always been in the dark.
Occasionally, as with UFOs, a pick-up truck's
involved, though so far, there's been no mention of beer.
If I had my own, I'd let it roam free
to clean up all the vermin.
And when it came home,
it could lean upon its kangaroo tail
and open in a yawn
its amazing jawall but wide
as a bear trapthen doze
beneath the echinacea leaves,
as if its only relations
weren't the logo and coat-of-arms
that mark its celebration.
Shadows of the leaves
stripe the lawn, and I can almost see it,
forelegs curled against its tawny chest,
mouth in a sleepy grin,
though of course what I'm remembering
is the gray and wrinkled baby one
floating like a garnish in its jar
of alcohol"preserved in spirits,"
as the museum says, which sets me to thinking
about souls and visions and the afterlife
and glowing eyes in the underbrush
and what's Tasmanian for "yokel"
and whether, clinking on the seat beside him,
in some of those sightings,
there wasn't a bottle or two
of Cascade Bitter Ale.
Originally published in the Spring 2003 issue of Isotope
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