A Mother’s Predation 

A cow elk can survive a Yellowstone winter,
in fact she often thrives
despite existing in what one can conceive
a perilous world.
What when the Rocky Mountains
reach their tectonic tines skyward
pulling down storms indiscriminately
like a tantruming child
dispatching the forgotten waste
on the plateaued expanse of the
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,
plowed over flat by the vat of molten
the crust of this earth
has dragged itself over for millions of years.
The land quakes nearly constantly
never seismically settled, never pausing.
Winter is frigid and food is sparse.
The elk and other ungulates
traipse to the brittle edges of thermal vents
to soak in the sulfuric steam, 
some cracking through the wafer earth
to drown or scald or biochemically suffocate.
But the elk after all,
assaulted by these elements for generations
have grown adaptable.
With four stomachs
she can digest the most austere of forage.
She grows a dense winter coat
and a neck mane, 
exclusive to her snow bound kin.
Herds provide communal support.
On this day, on this barren stage,
this elk, a mature cow,
her calves long grown,
her herd astray, she,
on blank white, is alone.
From the forest,
black splotches, like mold on linen,
poison the alabaster landscape.
The elk, not yet alert, 
poses postholed in the deep snow
as the dogs race in.
In her startle, she fanes defense,
breaking into a gallop across the expanse,
the open prairie bound by the Madison River,
maintaining distance.
The agile black mongrels gain ground
nipping at her ankles, 
tearing snarls of winter fleece from her hindquarters
in the orchestrated ambush.
The elk gallops madly through deepening snow,
no one wolf able to take her from her feet.
The chase envelopes her, trudging,
swarmed by biting, yapping jaws.
It is her own exhaustion, 
her aged limbs, her diminished hormones,
her years of parasites and injury and exposure,
that leaves the unmarked snow ahead of her untouched,
sinking into a cratered depression, 
to succumb to the wolves, 
a wild, ferocious energy
who immediately cloak her with a dark frenzy
fighting for the kill shot.