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Taung Child

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
before he is again, that shock, that panic,
that chemical echo of your screaming voice.

Alan Shapiro

Greensboro Review

Fall 2012

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