During the night, the great migration began.
Marlin, my faithful ‘89 Toyota, was jostled and shifted
until I awoke at two, to see the side of a mammoth
pass, a wall of matted fur, lurching certainly on.
What prompted their night migration, I wondered, but
I was awake, and the herd was moving,
and I would be amiss to miss this chance.
The true beginning began on the day I left my home:
as I passed through the overgrown Cascades,
I found that Marlin was running beside
squirrels and small, woodland creatures, all
travelling East, as I was, a harem of does,
a scurry of snakes, an arrow of Steller’s Jays.
I imagined a forest fire must have been driving them,
hungrily sweeping through valleys, devouring,
but as I settled at night, at the side of the road,
on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, beginning to snow,
a family of skinny raccoons huddled against my driverside tire,
a single elk was finding a bed at the edge of my sight,
and a charismatic congregation of birds sung us a hallelujah.
There were twenty or so of the ancient, lumbering beasts, when I awoke,
and the elk had multiplied a hundredfold.
They surrounded Marlin, front and back;
the highway was empty of any other cars.
I was caught in their midst, and I could not press ahead,
but I stopped in Cour d’Alene, at a gas bar where
every eye was trained on the advancing herd,
while I was loading Marlin with all the gas and food she could hold.
Through the mountains, the herd embiggened with
every pass and every valley that joined my path.
A murder of crows flew to our North, their shadow
cast above a regiment of mountain cats;
lynx and bobcat, mountain lions,
padding through the thickening snow,
beside a bevy of buffalo, stoically forging through.
Smaller beasts found purchase on the herd of mammoths:
birds of song, a possum hung from a vicious tusk,
the raccoon family curled on a great beast’s nape.
And leading us all, as the mountains tumbled onto the plains
of Montana, a single Kermode, with his head
high and proud, the spirit of his singular domain.
In Montana, there emerged, from foothills and farmer’s fields,
great creatures from the dawning of first suns,
lithe saurians, with strides that reached across the roads,
leaving pond-like prints in highway shoulders,
brachiosaurus towering over gallimimus
that had infiltrated the bison herd.
Porcupines bristled at the presence of stegosaurus,
and the otherwise peaceful migration was marred
by grey wolves and velociraptors –
a rivalry of savage packs, snapping and
low growls, and I, in Marlin, my hands
tight on the wheel, my windows closed.
The days passed slowly, and soon my cans of gas
were running down, the towns abandoned ahead of the herd.
I hatched a plan and let Marlin ghost,
as I rummaged in her trunk for rope.
I selected, as my target, a juvenile allosaurus,
painted in evergreen and hints of the sun over mountains.
Hitching to Marlin’s undercarriage, I weighted the gas with stones,
I stood in the open window and waited,
as I drifted closer and closer behind the lizard’s stride.
When it was near, I leapt from the window to its back,
and the startled beast began to run.
Quickly, then (I had only so much rope),
I threw my line around its breast
and tied it fast with a bowline knot.
It was shocked when it found the weight of Marlin,
but I clambered back and took her out of gear,
so I needed only keep my hands upon the wheel
and my feet for the pedal, should the beast decide to slow.
The days advanced, and I fed on all
that I could salvage from abandoned towns.
I would change my harness in every night,
as the caravan rested from the road –
one day a mammoth, the next a triceratops,
and as I passed beside Lake Michigan, I strung together,
with rope that I “borrowed” from an abandoned hardware store,
seven of the noblest elk, to pull me on unplowed roads.
The new year approached, and on its eve,
I spotted the Canadian bank of Sault Ste. Marie.
At the time I was pulled by a pair
of angry cinnamon bears, that had howled and stamped
when they woke to find themselves bound to my car.
The rest of the herd was continuing East,
but I had reined my bears towards the bridge,
and started across what was surely Superior or Huron.
I could see, on the other bank, a gas bar illuminating the fog,
so I started towards the dividing line,
only to find that Marlin and I were surrounded
by border guards intent to stop the passage
of two suspicious American bears,
and both without their passports.
We halted for a moment, while the guards advanced
with muzzles and chains. I feared my journey was done,
when suddenly, from behind, a terrifying roar.
With all the speed of the holy ghost descending,
came the Kermode and the deafening steps
of a full-grown tyrannosaurus.
A scattering of guards ensued, in chaos,
and most of them sought the shelter of their booths,
leaving my passage open, so I passed them slowly,
and as soon as I rested in reach of a pump,
I loosed the cinnamon bears.
I turned to fuel Marlin, and when I glanced
again at the river, there the bears were swimming,
and the last flick of a saurian tail, being swallowed by the fog.