THE HIPPO’S MAW
by Llyn Clague
The huge, horny-skinned animal
wallowing in its shallow pool
just beyond a low iron railing
opens its hinged jaw — a cliff-high wall —
revealing a half-acre of pink, wet, writhing
tongue, incisors like tusks, and yellow molars
to crush rocks.
For peanuts! Mere goobers!
Beside Mom, I throw . . . fearful . . .
and another . . . I am maybe five.
The hinge swings, the roof falls in,
the jaw clamps shut,
grinds, and I shiver,
imagining I am in there . . . .
Twenty years later, we’re zoo-ing again.
“A picture!” I urge Mom as I pitch
peanut after peanut after peanut
into that prehistoric cavern
that waits, with ancient patience,
for every morsel.
Avid amateur photographer,
she’s into it, my industrious mother.
In her basement dark room I select the shot
that seems to capture —
I’m not quite sure what —
and we crop it, side to side
high and low, down to 3 by 5,
the monumental mouth filling the whole
like a hole.
That was decades ago.
Today, in its plastic sheath,
the 3 by 5 stands on a shelf
by itself, a memento,
I slowly came to understand,
of the world’s insatiable demands —
and all my efforts —
A joke, of course. Cosmic to me,
but private. The immense maw
miniaturized. Contained. Past infamy.
Copyright © 2016 by Llyn Clague.