“Who Gets to Be a Fossil” by Christina Olson

Christina Olson


Max the mastodon gets to be a fossil.

Thomas Jefferson gets to be a fossil.

Max lived 14,000 years ago in a scrub forest filled with lizards & quail.

Thomas Jefferson built Monticello & signed the Declaration of Independence.

Sometimes Max used his tusks to fight other mastodons & sometimes his tusk would pierce the skull of other male he was fighting & that mastodon died.

I Google Where is Thomas Jefferson buried & the answer is on a website run by a woman named Carol who posts pictures of the graves of Thomas Jefferson & his family.

Carol writes, Something of a disappointment was the fact that the locked wrought iron fence prohibited visitors from paying homage to the great man & his family.

Max kept wandering through the California scrub until he died & his bones turned hard & then some men in hats found them when they were digging a dam.

Carol’s website also features a recipe for Carol’s Low Fat Peanut Soup & something called Crock Pot Dinner of Beans, Kale & Sausage for Three.

Jefferson fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings. Four lived to adulthood, which means Sally would need to make Dinner of Beans & Kale times one & one-third to feed their children.

The mastodons are dead & you & I will never see them.

Carol writes, Somehow it felt as if we were being banned from his world.

Sally Hemings may have lived in a room in Monticello’s South Dependencies, a wing of the mansion accessible to the main house through a covered passageway.

Carol writes, Thomas Jefferson belongs to his United States of America for time eternal.

Sally Hemings belonged to Thomas Jefferson for time eternal, or until he died.

Max the mastodon belongs to the Western Science Center in Hemet, California & people pay to look at him because he is a very impressive mastodon fossil, the biggest found west of the Mississippi River.

Thomas Jefferson is buried at Monticello, behind a wrought iron fence that prevents unwanted visitors.

Sally Hemings was buried in a site in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, which is now covered by the parking lot of the Hampton Inn on West Main Street.

from The Last Mastodon
2019 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Christina Olson: “In summer of 2017, I was invited to serve as poet-in-residence for a paleontology conference and exhibition (“The Valley of the Mastodons”) at the Western Science Center in Hemet, California. These pieces were inspired by that time spent among the paleontologists as well as my observations of the museum’s collections of fossils, particularly Max the Mastodon.” (web)

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