In the medieval darkness of the Holland Tunnel
with luminous green paint, on whitewashed walls
of the Madrid zoo, in his thick fingered handwriting
onto dust at the dry Casablanca aquarium
“When last I held you in my arms
my love, the West African Black
Rhinoceros was still magnificent
and still alive…”
What have you been doing to Paul Vermeersch?
He has searched for you encyclopedically
in Albacete, in Zagora, in those cities
whose names have changed,
till the maps he relies on wear out.
In what disguise did you leave him?
So he will not recognize
your gait anymore,
or your stare out from a diorama.
Hunt and Torment. Call by no Response.
In the end words of love reveal
just yourself. Not why
or the wished-for thing. Only the Spanish
consider his plea, only the drivers
deep in a tunnel into New York
nod wisely, agree with him.
But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn,
not the person he once held in his arms
When it is over, it is over,
they say in the passing dark.
There are no longer great nostrils
to scent out the source of torment.
It is a generation since our love,
to justify anger, had a horn, a tusk.
*Originally published in the January, 13 2014 issue of The New Yorker.