“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone”
—W. H. Auden
“I cannot recall a single case in history of an intervention
without a single shot being fired and with no human casualties.”
This is a long death bending the sawgrass,
spoiling in the mire and peat of the lake
two chthonic deities of Creation
who make us feel, watching them, we’ve escaped,
are safe enough from harm to feel privileged
the way a storm having passed us over
collects the landscape into one flat, leaden sky.
An anchor of knots, the python rides down
its foe like a sledge into the shallows,
the crocodile’s snout bobbing, snorkeling,
its lenses gold and sinking like treasure,
the struggle noiseless and infinitely
patient, almost playful, like a half-filled
bathtub nested in riparian reeds.
Man-eaters, cousins of leviathan,
reckon an impossible sympathy.
No brow to sweat, no lower lip to bite.
They cannot die like we know how to die.
Their violence is the same unchanging guise,
same as when they sleep, or mate, or feed.
The pain we see is what we put in them,
nothing like pity, but a hope for pain.
When finally the snake uncoils after
five hours, their scales softened, bodies slack,
it drags the croc from between the tall sedge
and meets it face to face, their expressions
unchanged in either death or victory.
The snake loosens apart its jaw and slides
the crocodile’s head into its carriage.
Peristaltic muscles of its mouth
gripping like fingers, feeding, swallowing,
the soft lizard stretching the corridor
of the python’s throat like a sheer fabric.
They are one body, separate somehow,
shifting its tired belly to the warm sun.
We are shaped with awe and made respectful.
Though nothing has changed, we may think so,
nothing from that suffering but to suffer.
The snake hasn’t noticed the limbs of its meal
waving from its stomach, and the horror—
I think that is in us and not in them—
a feeling familiar, then forgotten.
When all’s said and done, we think of that
Hebrew superlative of Solomon’s,
a speech act redundant and emphatic.
As useless as history seems today
there can be no compassion without it,
only a mechanical devouring,
the dumb apparatus of dumb natures.