DESCRIPTION: THE UNICORN ACCORDING TO MEDIEVAL SOURCES
like a rhino
With a horn curiously
mobile one creature
than the ribs of ships
whether bone or
tooth or jewel
In disposition both
ferocious and tame
like a lover
And dumb enough
to be duped by trees
Prone to nap
amid a thousand flowers
which is a rickety fence
is its game
the horse made strange
the phallus made beautiful
the male made gentle
at a touch every time
And a touch
of undistorted truth
to let us see
what we don’t want to
after letting us stitch
the elaborate fantasy
DESCRIPTION: THE UNICORN ACCORDING TO WHAT I DREAMED
Of course it was a sentinel
species. That only makes sense.
(This like a voiceover
in a cold open.)
I was on vacation
by myself. My phone was ringing
in my pocket.
at the battered handrail, fingering
splinters, feeling cold in the mist, and
the portal. It was like looking into
deep outer space: nothing could be seen
there, so, anything. Glimmers
became fish, tentacles, boxcars,
the priests, swathed
in radiant velvet bathrobes, were hawking
sparrows and fortunes. Like I somehow
knew they always did.
and before their wings could make them stand in air,
the birds proved mortal.
Proved stone birds. Plummeted.
I now saw a pile of stones
heaped in front of the cave.
None of us could smell
Then the unicorn
walked up, nudged
one stone—or bird—with its horn, probed it
like a grieving mother or maybe
like a scientist. Sniffed the air. Looked at me.
It knew what was coming.
It could see for centuries.
It lay down on its side and its breathing slowed.
My phone stopped ringing.
ANTIECLOGUE: THE UNICORN AT THE ZOO
“At first I thought it was drawn to the out-of-tune guitar
the homeless man was strumming and mumbling to—
soothed, maybe, like a sheep by a shepherd’s pipe.
Turns out it was drawn to me, for unmentionable reasons.
The leash I had in my car was frayed but sturdy.
The creature came along like a willing dog.
Once, that is, I got him to step beyond the tree line.
Of course I took him to work with me the next day.”
“I don’t know what Mary was thinking, but I’m glad she brought him
here. Definitely not a re’em or an oryx. More like a deer.
If a deer were Doberman-sized, tapir-toed
and lion-tailed, with a single corkscrew horn
instead of antlers. Technically, it’s an anfractuous spire
with cochlear turnings—one for each year, we think.
Well, like tree rings, yes. What we can’t figure out
is the source of that encircling stench of lichen.”
“The animal wouldn’t bond with any of the handlers.
Simple as that. Like a cat, you know. Aloof.
Wanted what it wanted. Mysterious in its signals.
When I tried to lead it by a halter, it bucked and sat.
Mounted, it gave a bark and tried to bolt.
It reared for food—after we figured out what it wanted
(hibiscus mixed with smilax)—but only once; then never.
Tranquilizer darts proved wholly ineffective.”
“We had to keep it chained at night, for its own safety.
During the day, of course, it was free to roam its pen.
A team of veterinarians—the team leader
has cared for my pet dogs for ten years—reacted swiftly
when the anti-anxiety meds caused those, erm, unfortunate
side effects. Which nobody could have predicted.
And just what is a natural enclosure for a unicorn, anyway?
You see what we were up against. This isn’t a tapestry.”
“Why is it chewing its lips all the time, like stupid Ralphie
in the slow class does? All it does is walk in circles.
That horn doesn’t do anything cool…
I’m bored. Unless it does tricks, let’s go see the tigers.”
“Oooh, its tongue is purple. Has it been eating grapes?
What’s it doing with its neck all the time—
is it stretching? Do you think is has a mommy
and a daddy? It seems bored. Maybe it’s lonely.”
“Let me tell you something. The only thing
that can be learned from a caged animal is
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
* * * * zoochotic *
* * * * * * *
This isn’t a tapestry! * * * *
[The rest of the protest violates copyright usage.]
“If they had another, they could hold jousting
contests…!” “I don’t believe it is a unicorn.
I think it’s a fake and I blame the liberal media.”
“That thing is going to swallow a coin or a plastic
bag and die. Then see how fast this place shuts down.”
“How many zookeepers has it impaled, I wonder.”
“This is a Golden Age of Zoos!” “I ate eland once.
Bet this thing tastes like eland. Kinda gamey in its flanks.”
“Dear Sirs and/or Madams,
I will pay you forty thousand dollars
in unmarked bills if necessary for the horn alone.
As I have been pursued for several years
by agents of a foreign government (which I shall not name)
and subjected to a wide variety of assassination plots,
many of them by poisoning, you can imagine, I am sure,
what an advantage alicorn powder would be to me.”
“Ingredients: sixty-three to eighty-one garlic scapes;
four point two imperial bushels of Bhut jolokia peppers, diced;
two poods fresh epazote, chopped;
a pinch of pink Himalayan salt, and enough
black pepper to make you sneeze twice.
Tools: one expensive grill; top-of-the-line stainless-steel
tongs; a spatula with no-slip handles;
one Bowie knife. Directions: kill and gut the unicorn. . .”
“I assure you, the animal is not being crated
across the country. Or carted. What you
in the media are calling a ‘boxcar’ is more like
a luxury spa on wheels. They all but buff the creature’s nails.
. . . Oh. Well, you know what I mean. And I’m sorry about that.
Yes, around-the-clock first-class veterinary care.
This tour will give the entire country
a rare opportunity to witness Mythology Come To Life!”
“We cannot say at this time what happened.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is working closely
with the county sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Horne—no, it’s not a joke—will be holding
a press conference at one o’clock. I’ll let him
update you on the search operation.
All I can tell you is what our handlers found:
a locked empty pen and a broken chain.”
Peer into the fog
of the world into
its lakes into its
walls of trees
Any surface will do
Stare long enough
and then call out
The surface has turned mirror
What should you say?
Call out its name
It answers to your own
What should you look for?
The reflecting fog
will cause some distortion
Look for a shimmer
of flank a glimmer
of bright eye a tapering
from a sky of forehead
the wrought shape
six centuries of solitude
you’d think to evolve
than a beacon
a summoning of knives
come and see
come and saw
and when the bloody work
pour into the lake
pour into the fog
of its eyes my eyes
another six centuries
EPILOGUE: MY PET UNICORN
“Mysterious as a sphinx. How could we ever know
what it really wanted? Even when it used to perch
its goaty beard on my knee and sleep,
something in its breathing intimated trouble.
It breathed unrest even in a resting state.
“Awake, it stared at me, long minutes at a stretch,
blank-eyed and unblinking.
This pastime had an unwholesome air about it.
Did I mention its rectangular pupils,
like a goat or toad or octopus,
each black obelisk floating in a pale swirl
that reminded me of Jupiter and riddled me to no end?”
If eyes were made for seeing,
then being is its own excuse for beauty.
If eyes were made for being seen,
then what excuse for these?
“Cuddled, it struggled free and stood aloof,
but, unbeckoned, it would paw or nuzzle us.
And more than once, I swear,
that narwhal tusk was thrust
between the uprights of the stairs
with the definite intention to trip me or my husband.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Blogosphere,
I would appeal to you to learn:
Why does my unicorn hate me??
However, the beastly secret must be kept
— if not the beast.
Maybe I’ll come Facebook-clean later on,
tell everything in a string of confessional posts.”
Pardon my insouciance, but why
did you have a unicorn in the first place?
“We thought of ourselves as ‘pet people.’
And I was being trained in animal husbandry.
And anyway, it chose me (I thought) originally.
Plus it seemed willing enough to be sprung
from that traveling sideshow.
Jeezus, what a circus, that.
“But everything changed when I got pregnant.”
O pardon my asking, but ask I must:
Would you describe yourself and your hubby as,
er, medievally horny, or
would you say you shared a fairly chaste love?
Was it a chased love? Was it a faithful marriage…?
“Having a baby really puts things in perspective.
All of a sudden all of our pets
just seemed less significant. Even a threat.
“I posted online: ‘Anybody want a pair of dogs
(see photo) or a bandy-legged cat?’
None of my online so-called friends
seemed to take the offer seriously.
And I couldn’t mention Yooni, of course.
“Then after the baby came: marking
and barking—the damn thing barked, I swear—
and an absolute refusal to sit when ordered,
to come in or go outside when safe, when time,
or to eat from its own bowl and keep its nose
away from baby. Seemed still more sullen
after hubby sheared the horn.
But he had to. Had to.
“Then that dangerous prong grew back
in three days’ time, resurrected itself
from its stump like a drill bit turning slowly.
No, Yooni had to go.
As a family, we had to prioritize our own.”
Pardon my lack of pardon, here, but
“On the first warm night in spring
we drove it out to County Line Road,
an unlit stretch of two-lane highway,
and pulled to the shoulder.
At first the frightened thing refused
to be dragged from the truck bed.
Arched its back and stamped its hooves
on the metal floor and pawed the air.
But peanut butter stuck with smilax
coaxed it down the ramp at last.
“And before its tongue could smack its palate clean,
we were pulling away at highway speed.
In the dim blob of the wing mirror
I could see it standing there,
shimmering grayly in the night
and growing smaller,
forefeet on the yellow line,
its right eye looking after us,
its back legs shifting nervously in place.
And then the road curved
and the mirror filled with darkness.”