“Elephant, Horse, Cattle, Winter,” oil on canvas, by Franz Marc, 1914.

by Ellen Romano

My husband and I escape the heat in the house,
step hand in hand into the night air
with crickets and the neighbor’s baby
babbling through an open window.
Heedful, we answer with silence.

My mother has asked me if I see
wild animals around town.
She moves in and out of lucidity,
has been thinking of elephants
and matriarchies, tells me we should
all come back as elephants
and never leave each other.

My ancient dog is roused
by a flutter in the bushes, moves
his arthritic bones with care.
Can it really have been so long
since he was an eager puppy?
I think of other dogs, other spans of years
from birth to death, and the night becomes
a hundred other nights of my life,
with lightning bugs and flashlight tag,
a lunar eclipse in the hours before dawn.

A sweet scent brings me back to this place
and other people’s memories,
the previous owner plants night blooming
jasmine for her one-time lover, its perfume
reminiscent of late-night visits,
and farther back, a Spanish soldier
falls to his knees in fear and wonder
when he meets an indigenous man traveling
the creek that runs behind my yard.
I ask myself whose bones, human or animal,
I walk on with each step.

But my mother is long gone, perhaps
already an elephant waiting for my rebirth
as her daughter. Now a different dog rattles
the bushes, she too already old. My hand is empty,
my husband not even as substantial as a ghost,
but here.

Ellen Romano lives in Hayward, CA where she writes poetry and is working on her first novel. Her work has appeared in December Magazine and is forthcoming in Crosswinds Poetry Journal.