“Something Less” by J. Todd Hawkins

J. Todd Hawkins


Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros
—Ogden Nash

The hook of moon in the afternoon sky—I see horns everywhere!
The splash of blood, the thin white thigh. (I see horns everywhere.)

They said its skin is armor, bulletproof, iron. Yet, skin
Is skin is keratin. Of course, it’s lies. I see horns everywhere.

In the center squints a gray marble, ringed in wrinkles.
It drowns in the pit of my eyes’ sea. Horns everywhere.

The fever would not break. She poured the powder in the pot.
“Drink or else get sick and die.” I see horns everywhere.

My tongue too long a willow in dust. My father warned, “Squeeze!
Don’t jerk, or you’ll shoot too high.” I see horns everywhere.

Javan, Sumatran, Black, White: the hurricane
of cream in the coffee’s eye. I see horns everywhere.

Above the zoo pit, looking down from the bridge. I ask,
“Is he sleeping?” “No, Son,” she cries. I see horns everywhere.

We were told to press our feet to the ground, like him, trusting
it to meet us, but instead, there was sky. I see horns everywhere.

“Do they ever grow back?” she asks through an interpreter.
The bright pink flesh-pit covered with flies. “I see.” Horns everywhere.

That night in Jakarta, you sent shards of chill down my spine. The traffic,
sweat-dreams, we stopped ships all the way to Shanghai. Icy horns, everywhere.

The dictionary entry is already written in past tense.
Don’t believe me? Look it up—F, G, H, I, I see. Horns everywhere.

We hear the spiny echo, find the massive shadow against the trees.
Broken toy creatures under the baby’s chair. I sigh. I see. Horns everywhere.

from Poets Respond
December 3, 2017


J. Todd Hawkins: “This ghazal was written in response to to the recent viral photo post of the last male northern white rhino in the world. There’s a great tradition of rhino poetry, from Ogden Nash to Edward Hirsch, so it felt engaging, participatory to consider this piece in that context. The geographic history of the ghazal seemed a good fit for the content.” (web)

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