Elk Prints

The Harris Museum

I.
I lean down
to touch
them

like

an
ancient
huntress
taste

not
blood
but paint
still follow
the trail
of red

(do I detect the hint of a limp?)

up the stone steps
past paintings
depicting

your hunting
like the Stations
of the Cross

(watercolours)

those old old hunters
we will know as the Dwellers
in the Water Country

semi-amphibious
blue-limbed
against
the green
of the fenlands

(it is 11,500BC)

bows drawn back
like the grins
of wolves

the madman
with the axe who
severed your tendons

before you limped on
dripping red

your pain
sucked up by
the sedge

the last
shudder of
your thick skin
not enjoyed by midges
at mid-winter
in a pool.

II.
On the
second floor
in the Discovery Gallery

where your skeleton stands
beyond hunting trophy
beyond Messiah
beyond icon

I pause for breath imagining

flints tips against ribs
heaving lungs

the loneliness
of your
heart.

III.
When I press
the red button that blasts
out your roar

the city trembles

breathes in and breathes out

the paddle of a dug-out canoe
splashing a reminder
of aurochs, deer,
wolf, elk…

*With thanks to the Harris Museum for the images.

The Last Wolves

Every district has its last wolf.’
Lays of the Deer Forest

I watch across the troubled waters
of the Bay whilst you gather up
the Last Wolf of Lancashire
from Humphrey Head.

Some say he was driven
over Kirkhead and Holker
and plunged across the Leven,
sheltered on Coniston Old Man,
swam Windermere to Gummershaw,
Witherslack, Eggerslack, Grange,
met his end in Sir Edgar’s cave
by John Harrington’s lance,

others he fled the Bowland forest
where your ghost-wolves still howl
and was stuck by a thousand pikes
where tides meet the headland.

With thumb and forefinger
you squeeze his wounds closed,
pass your hand across glazed eyes
like the shadow of a lantern.

You shake out his pelt. His soul slips free
to join the wolf-dance in your death-light:

the dance of all the Last Wolves you gathered up…

From Gleann Chon-fhiadh, the Wolves’ Glen,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
pulled the dirk from her breast, the spear
from her flank, the steel gauntlet,
lamhainn chruaidh from
the trap of her jaws,
laid her amongst
her slaughtered cubs
and sang out their yelping souls.

From between Fi-Giuthas and Pall-a-chrocain,
pinewood known for deer and township in the crooked river,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
carried back his heavy black head
severed for fear he’d live again,
sewed up his severed throat,
wounds where he’d been
buckled and dirkit,
sang his black shape hurtling back
through pines, upriver, startling deer.

From a cave of bones in Helmsdale
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Sutherland:
closed her stab-wounds,
straightened out her tail from when she was suspended
by a God-like hand, wolf-shadow snapping
ineffectually over her dead cubs,
their ruddy-armed killer.
Her tail straight,
you sang her family whole into the Otherworld.

You gathered up the Last Wolf
of Inverness: pieced together his skull
shattered by an old woman’s frying pan,
sang him back to where he will no longer
prowl into houses or lick
a human hand.

You gathered up all the Last Wolves from
the Wolf’s Rivers, Burns, Crags, Glens, Dens,
Hills, even from Wormhills. You gathered
up the Last Wolf of the Weald

as you gathered up the Last Elk, Aurochs, Bear, Lynx, Boar…

I watch the Last Wolves join your wolf-dance.
White wolves, grey wolves, black wolves,
she-wolves and cubs vivid as stars
whilst bioluminescent fishes
leap across the Bay.

Humphrey Head III