The God Of Love

By George MacBeth

The musk-ox is accustomed to near-Arctic conditions. When danger threatens, these beasts cluster together to form a defensive wall, or a “porcupine”, with the calves in the middle.
– Dr Wolfgang Engelhart

I found them between far hills, by a frozen lake.
On a patch of bare ground. They were grouped
In a solid ring, like an ark of horn. And around
Them circled, slowly closing in,
Their tongues lolling, their ears flattened against the wind, A whirlpool of wolves. As I breathed, one fragment of bone and
Muscle detached itself from the mass and
Plunged. The pad of the pack slackened, as if
A brooch had been loosened. But when the bull
Returned to the herd, the revolving collar was tighter. And only

The windward owl, uplifted on white wings
In the glass of air, alert for her young,
Soared high enough to look into the cleared centre
And grasp the cause. To the slow brain
Of each beast by the frozen lake what lay in the cradle of their crowned

Heads of horn was a sort of god-head. Its brows
Nudged when the arc was formed. Its need
Was a delicate womb away from the iron collar
Of death, a cave in the ring of horn
Their encircling flesh had backed with fur. That the collar of death

Was the bone of their own skulls: that a softer womb
Would open between far hills in a plunge
Of bunched muscles: and that their immortal calf lay
Dead on the snow with its horns dug into
The ice for grass: they neither saw nor felt. And yet if

That hill of fur could split and run – like a river
Of ice in thaw, like a broken grave –
It would crack across the icy crust of withdrawn
Sustenance and the rigid circle
Of death be shivered: the fed herd would entail its under-fur

On the swell of a soft hill and the future be sown
On grass, I thought. But the herd fell
By the bank of the lake on the plain, and the pack closed,
And the ice remained. And I saw that the god
In their ark of horn was a god of love, who made them die.

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