Old Gnu
by Charles Harper Webb

All his life, he’s galloped at the center

of the herd, pressed and protected by jolting

bodies as they swept across the veldt

like a river of horn meat, blood, and hair.

Yet no matter how the rest bellowed

and banged, how dense their heat

and stink, he sensed a space between him

and the rout. He knew he savored

the lush grass a little more, slurped more

pleasurably from the turbid streams,

loved more powerfully the spring migration

to the forest, the fall migration back

through sloshing rain. He coupled

with more and prettier females, always

with special force and tenderness, loving

their offspring as they fell—bloody,

helpless, struggling to stand—then,

imbued with full gnu-ness, loping away.

Only he could grasp (he thought)

the incongruity of Gnu—cobbled

from spare parts before God infused

the drives of His Own heart. Yet now

he moves toward the margins of his herd.

(Or does the center shove him out?)

Now he runs, not in a torrent,

but a trickling stream, as when galaxies

that clump into a creamy mass of light,

thin to empty corners of the night.

He tries to shove back to the center.

The crush won’t let him in. The grass

he tramples reeks of blood. Hearing

moans and howls, he scents the lions,

hyenas, crocodiles he shook to think of,

back when fear was fun. Do they creep

closer every day? Or does he, like all

the old ones, run toward them now?


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 3.

Charles Harper Webb’s twelfth collection of poems, Sidebend World, was published in 2018 bythe University of Pittsburgh Press.  A Million MFAs Are Not Enough, a collection of Webb’s essays on contemporary American poetry, was published by Red Hen Press in 2016.  Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.

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