Sandra Meek

Winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2015

Orycteropus afer (Antbear)Kalahari                


To spiral into the ear

of a story, a holding
holding out—

            Komtsha: Elusive, what stays

always underground, sheltering
in abandoned mounds—but the den

the antbear digs, even a leopard
can secret there.


Read nomadic as vagrant, San
as Bushman, removal for
their own good. Dawn as a day's
license to kill. A mid-desert
trespass: a night's
hunting lodge, communal
breakfast, the Motswana guide
patting my shoulder, laughing away
my recoil at sport hunting

when we see the eland, when we have him
in our crosshairs, I will tell him
someone loves him


If the shadow
reports the body; if meat

is remembered distance wind-spiced
with camel thorn, the juice of roots

the throat's deep catch

If what feeds the muscle
raises the arm that smashes a wellhead

in a desert village, that digs a shallow grave
to bury alive—

what would starve it?


                                Komtsha's
family yard: a wash tub cradled

in dust, tin ribs echoed by the bow
of bone, last arc shadowing the belly

of his boy asleep in the tub; by blade
after blade of the dog

watching over.


Look: To make fire one
doesn't need matches, the shop,

but false sandpaper, the sticks of two
distinct trees, one brittle, one
soft meat.

Two ready hands.

Silencing without answering
his cell's digital recall
of a mechanical ring, Komtsha
translates her Naro when I ask
his elderly mother her age: I can't
read the dates, she says; I didn't go to school
to remember—


Whatever evil unfurls the skin isn't spirit
but the eyes of others seeing

other. The terror of a maloi less the snakes
witched writhing into the victim's gut
than the knowledge that one

had wished them there.


She says they stop us
from going into the bush, we

are surrounded—she wakes

each morning to put on the shame
of cloth—skirt,

scarf, a decades-old loss each day
still brushing her skin; money

what made her poor, how,
she says, they made

her need iteven as they fell,
entranced, for that other

embedded difference: xenoliths, garnets
unearthed as harbingers

of mine


Astralagi of the antbear, one
of the ditaola, Tswana divining bones I paid
to have thrown once; once read

as childless, my future a truth
the ngaka couldn't get past searching

how best correct—


No skin
for skin; no body

for body. No reading stars
by the entrails of fire

scattered and ashed; no path by the light

of a diamond signature, by the new lodge's borehole, floodlit
spillage for viewing those beautifully cursive horns

inscribing the duskeland who catch
in the vacancy of air the taint

the human misses, the whisper of sand

filling the hourglass
of a man's ear.


                   Komtsha: The antbear, this is how
she eats: she puts out her sweet tongue, the ants

will gather there, she will lay

quietly; when she pulls back her tongue,
the nest will be gone.

line

Fady Joudah on Sandra Meek

In "Orycteropus afer (Antbear)Kalahari" one is not simply moved to a new locale, namely the Kalahari, in which cliché exotic compassion towards an ill-defined other is allowed to bloom in safety. The poem mentions Komtsha, the great Naro elder, and hints at specific historic relations between the people of Botswana. But the poem does not offer us historic lessons or details, nor does it delineate victim and victimizer. Instead it gradually and diligently dislocates human behavior to the natural world: the tongue of the antbear, the eland, the xenolith. In this dislocation we see our hearts more clearly. It would be a mistake to read this poem as an allegory of the hunter-gatherer existence as if it was an anthropologic pastime that does not concern our so-called modern existence. If we are humane, if we allow the poem to fill the hourglass of our ears, we will understand that the "evil that unfurls the skin" is "the eyes of others seeing other." This is the poem's great reach. That even the sweet tongue is capable of destroying homes.

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