—Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttaranchal
At last I had shed the cooks and porters,
slipped guide and driver to get where I shouldn’t.
Leaving the road for that enticing artery of dirt,
chance greeting desire. Human world
soon mute, I followed this sharper attentiveness,
canopy of neem and pine. Elephant dung marked
the way. I kicked apart one clay-like brick.
Strawy warmth, halo of gnat, inarguable
musky perfume. Black-faced langurs swung ahead.
When I rousted the sambar buck, elk-like,
chestnut-dark, and watched its wide crown
disappear, I equally startled. Otherwise,
the quiet was exquisite, late afternoon light
angled and rich—my three shirts too many layers
for temperate winter. What I am saying,
even in the dry riverbed, studying a mishmash
of deer and boar hooves, elephant tracks deep
and large as serving plates, even as I prayed not to
find what I sought and found, I felt no fear.
My late, heavy lunch, first meat I’d taken
in weeks, jostled in my stomach. I wasn’t armed,
of course, except with weariness. Nothing
threadbare as bravery involved itself. I’m saying
that as I crouched before the wide indention
of pugmark, recent fossil fine in sand, unmarred
between rock, I felt only calm exhilaration,
a stupid, fateful surety. Life was grand, absurd.
The tiger could have me if it wanted. I wouldn’t
embarrass us with resistance. I had delivered myself,
my own meal undigested. I apologized to wife,
mother, but I’d witnessed worse fates lately.
From the spidering crux of an immense banyan,
I watched the light move and tried to listen.
And not until I had chosen to continue,
entered a head-tall blind of grass, blades enveloping,
touching, hushing me, did I feel a frisson
of panic, sweet trembling bloom, hear the drum
and bellows of heart and lungs. All the easy,
mournful luck of my life, announcing to the wild.
To read Chapter 16‘s interview with Gaylord Brewer, click here.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Gaylord Brewer. All rights reserved.