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The Birth of Injustice

Meandering Neandertals
keep bumping up against

the glacier's high, invasive walls,
whose blackened snout

comes down to eat
the ground underneath their feet.

Which is the way now?
What else but hunched despair's

narrowing valleys, this gathering
feeling of everything

                    It's an old notion, nearly sensed
from way back when: somehow,

this exorbitant venture of theirs
—Life—isn't working out.

She's a brooder, this one,
on her rock, who once or twice, or thrice

(no words for numbers yet),
has laid a child to earth. They take

the tiny body from your arms and it goes
down into a cold mouth we make

ourselves, digging out the shape.
                                               The ice
eats, the earth eats, and having set

her haunches on a rock, she ponders the light:
it's dawn, or dusk, no language for

origins or ends, and yet the sun
is moving, and in her blood she knows

always their dwindling journey has been far
too brutal: something's not right.

This big-boned figure who
subsists chiefly on cattails she prises

from the numb gray sand
of a half-frozen pond

prefers of course
the soft and steamy organs of horse

or aurochs, when those are in hand—
not often enough.
                          Not often enough, days

warmly warm, all the way through,
when the wished sun rises

up in your chest with the blaze
of honey on the tongue, for you the ache

and sting of it, sweet beyond
any sounds a mouth might make.

Brad Leithauser

The Oldest Word for Dawn
Alfred A. Knopf

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