Colophospermum mopane

Mophane tree, you fascinate
for what feasts
your blown limbs —
crop of caterpillars
women hot-ash roast
and sack; elephants
farmers curse, tourists photograph

looming your half-ruin.
Unbroken, your crown shimmers
only with distance:
more salt pan than the one
river east, close up
you parch; your paired leaves,
wings, angled more angel
than butterflies’

ascending tilt, channeling sky
even as they dip
to drink
some other tree’s blooms;
your angel, less Heaven
of Renaissance oils
than church-play

cardboard and tinsel and glue.
Not even Latin
can candle you
the music of Imbrasia
belina: mophane
Emperor Moth
caterpillar that swallows you

down to your name, feeding
your emerald descent
to autumn rust, tint of a season
absent here, this far north
in the South. Even
what you fruit — withered
pod, wrinkled seed—no interest
to harvesters,
nor the modest pendants
of your clustered flowering
yellow-green as glass in a depression-

era brooch: costume color
of no stone worth
mining, worth a mine laborer’s
cutting his own arm
to stitch into that wound’s
secret nest what the first
X-ray machine in southern
Africa, passing over
any live tumor’s
jewel, lit on as twin
at his contract’s end: that searing

white light. Your leaves
shadow with winter
and drought, road dust
no one will ever
rinse away — the tourists
all down at the waterhole
photographing the elephants’ elegant
over-the-shoulder splash.
What never

touches you: camera light
that bathes the very trunks
that broke your strongest limb
across the sand road
before you, lying there still
like the ancestral bones they
will lovingly turn,
their trunks’ grace
caressing that loss as your shadow
leans over yours in the late-

falling evening. Your frail trunk
quivers, burdened to hold
sky to earth. The trunk
we pray to? The one given
Ganesh, Elephant-
Headed God, Remover
of Obstacles, to incarnate
Om, sound of the wavering

unwavering universe. Mophane
tree, Colophospermum
, what god wears
your desiccation, your crown
of dry leaves? Still,
I’m stopping
on your road’s shoulder;
my camera stands you

to its one glass eye.
I’m leaving you now
this one gift: a moment
of pure incandescence,
the flash of being
finally, fully seen —

Something for you
to remember me by.

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