Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Poem of the Day: “Mammoth” by James Frederick William Rowe, Frequent Contributor and Poet of the Week

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Mammoth” by James Frederick William Rowe, Frequent Contributor and this week’s Poet of the Week.  "Mammoth" is the third poem in Rowe's "Caveman Trilogy."  The second poem appeared in the Review yesterday, and the first the day before yesterday.  A biography of the poet may be found in our “About Our Editor & Frequent Contributors” section.

James Frederick William Rowe

Low in the brittle grass
Like fish aswim in an ochre sea
Or lice ascuttle through tawny hair
We stalk you
King of pride, king of strength

We have come to hunt you
We have come to kill you
Great master of the tundra
First amongst quarries
A hunter's harvest
In but a single kill

We will surround you
We will encircle you
Trapped in the snare of our spears
You will not realize the danger
Until screaming
We pounce upon you

None know which way you'll break
Nor against whom will your tusks be borne
With the furious strength of your charge
We have all seen proof of your power
Proof of your panic
In the dead you have claimed before

But we are not afraid
Anymore of you than hunger
The winter will soon be upon us
And our stores must be stocked
Lest our sons starve
And we alongside them

So turn as you may
Slay whom you must
But we have need of your flesh
We have need of your skin
And we will honour your tusks
Gore-flecked though they may be

When the deed is done
And you lie upon your side
Breathing your last as blood
Seeps from skewering spears
We will end your misery
And thank you for your sacrifice

Poet’s Notes:  This poem concludes the "Caveman Trilogy," focusing on the collective hunt of those archetypical ice age animals: the mammoth.  From what I've learned about mammoth hunting, the general procedure used to fell these beasts was to surround them and to attack them with spears, aiming for the soft, vulnerable groin to land the killing blow. The stealthy approach punctuated with the surprise attack no doubt startled the mammoth that, owing to its massive size and strength, no doubt killed many hunters. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of meat from a single kill would make these pachyderms highly tempting to slaughter. All these themes are found in my poem.

As we know cavemen collected the tusks, I picture them as venerated in the same fashion as the bones of the cave bear in Bear Cult. Though they may be flecked with gore, or perhaps because of this fact, they are objects of numinous power, and as the hunter depends in some sense on the continual existence of the hunted, there is an element of worship in the gratitude the hunters express to the dead mammoth.

The poem was, as with the other two, begun on my subway ride, but as with Cave Painter, involved more alteration that necessitated me returning afterwards to tweak it. It did not flow quite as easily as the others, with the first stanza originally being longer and out of line with the length of the others. I changed that for aesthetic purposes, and also because I thought I composed a better second verse that took some of the excess from the first and placed it in line with my imposed form. 

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