TAUNG CHILD

Fall 2012: Issue 92

Alan Shapiro

What led you down, first mother, from the good

dark of the canopy, and then beyond it?

What scarcity or new scent drew you out

that day into the vertical-hating flatness

of the bright veldt, alone, or too far from

the fringes of the group of other mothers

following the fathers out among the herds

and solitary grazers, the child clinging to your back

when the noiseless wing flash lifted him

away into the shocked light as the others ran?

Two million years ago, and yet what comes

to me, in time lapse through cascading chains

of changing bodies, is not the tiny skull

I’m holding, not the clawed out eye sockets,

his fractured jaw, but you, old mother, just then

in that Ur-moment of his being gone,

what I’ve felt too, on crowded streets, in malls,

if only briefly, in the instant when

the child beside me who was just there

                                                                          isn’t

before he is again, that shock, that panic,

that chemical echo of your screaming voice.