A young male strode down the mountainside,
crossed the road, strutted into shallow waters
of the Gallatin river. He stalked the old bull elk
grazing alone on the other side.
The herd master ignored the gauntlet for a while,
then quick like a rattler striking, charged from the bank.
The clash of antlers cracked like breaking pines
in an ice storm, rolling sound upstream and down.
On land once more, the battle halted
while both tried to maneuver bony-branched horns
between the lodge pole pines. A minute’s rest--
then back into the current.
Strong hind quarters, taunt neck muscles, bunched
like iron cables, pushed, retreated, up and down
the icy stream. The match wore on for more
than twenty minutes.
Heads low, antlers commingled like old bones
collected in a basket, until the young stud forced
his aging foe beneath the water’s surface, held him there.
The veteran of a life of valiant clashes at last broke free.
He crashed and splashed downstream, the loser,
bleating like a lamb who's lost his mother.
Posing for cameras on the roadside,
the victor, centered in the roaring river,
raised his head and shook his massive rack.
He bugled his triumphant call to his new harem.
This poem first appeared in Kakalak: Anthology of Carolina Poets (2009)
and in The Southern Poetry Anthology (Volume VII: North Carolina 2014).
Used here with the author’s permision.