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Tuesday, December 10, 2019


by Pepper Trail

Nearly 30 years after its last documented sighting, a silver-backed chevrotain was spotted by a camera set up in the forest of southern Vietnam. (Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP) —NPR, November 11, 2019

Delicately, it steps into the frame,
an animal living its life, seen only
by the camera, no larger (we are told)
than a rabbit, called (we are told)
the Vietnamese mouse-deer, and
also the silver-backed chevrotain,
the world’s smallest hoofed mammal,
suddenly returned from the dead.

In the image, it makes its ordinary way,
slender limbs rising from the dry leaves,
clean white belly and throat, flanks buff
and silver, alert pink ears, large dark eyes
seeming to look inward, slight smile
on the narrow muzzle, as if remembering
an amusing incident from the night before,
unaware that it is, to us, a miracle.

Discovered (shot) by scientists in 1907,
then no trace for 83 years, then one more
seen (shot) by scientists in 1990, then not
again, and so declared a species “lost,”
perhaps (probably) extinct, another fatality
of human appetite, but now, in 2019, seen
(seen) by hidden cameras, walking quietly,
thinking private thoughts, this survivor.

Yesterday it was an entry in a ledger,
nothing but a name in spidery black script,
Tragulus versicolor, written off,
the dusty book closed, not to be re-opened.
Today I gaze and gaze at its photograph,
seem to hear its quickly-beating heart,
smell its warm scent, and I see the world
it makes (still is making) with its life, alive.

Pepper Trail is a poet and naturalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Kyoto Journal, Cascadia Review, and other publications, and has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. His collection Cascade-Siskiyou was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry.