Friday Poem

Werewolf on the Moon

You want to touch big animals,

animals not touched by your peers

Woe is not you

You have the polar bear in Franz

Josef Land, the white whale in the Sea

of Okhotsk,

You have the brown bear, leopard

& Amur tiger in Ussuri, the Far

East, so east, like a talon

it hooks Heilongjiang, claims

that edge of Pacific, that swath of

maritime lands & a maritime state — 

Primorsky Krai, home

to Vladivostok, the ancient Manchurian

forest, its corresponding duck,

a short North Korean river-

border changing course, redrawn

when the bank sloughs off,

its markers slipping, washing

away — Tumen, sputtering

into the Sea of Japan

There is an awareness of islands — 

Oshima, Okushiri, Hokkaido — 

tucked into the brain of every organism

Volcanics, large to small,

they perforate the waters northeast

to Kamchatka (& that is so far

your countrymen send

their misbehaved children

to so-called corners in their houses)

Perhaps you can stand

on that shore facing inland & gaze

out over the spray of those white

whales of yours, the expanse

that comprises your jurisdiction

Now, what’s the first thing you know

is there, but can’t see for mist, et al:

Khabarovsk Krai, whose coat of arms

is a bear holding a coat of arms

of a bear & a tiger holding

a blue & yellow coat of arms,

inverted Y, tiny crown afloat, big bear

pinching his canoe-shaped tongue

between his teeth — 

& what tumbles from there but

Black Dragon, scrawling from Inner

Mongolia to Tartar Strait, true,

for all its bordermaking, to its roots

From it & all its names, names

for everything: for islands, for fables,

the provinces it traces, for

gruesome late-Mongol conquerors

& the surrounding biology

You think about it

now & again, thumbing

a leatherbound natural history,

gift from a pandering

South American delegation ripe

with stories about their jaguar, the early

explorers who called it tigre

In the world, there are 9 subspecies

of tiger, all eastern, 3 of them extinct

Amur is classified as merely endangered

& concentrated in Ussuri State

Nature Reserve, where you are known

because you shot one

It is somewhat a farce

There is no state — not since Bolshevik

word set foot there — only a river

bearing the name & you

commissioned the research: to study everyone

with a name on the Red List

of Threatened Species, to house

data online at,

to visit them all & each visit

to carry an air gun & a satchel

of tranquilizer darts, to shoot, to topple,

to affix the GPS collar, to caress

the fur (in the case of the whale

the skin) & muse to scientists about

the big, sleepy oaf:

Would she remember, or eat you, or both?

by Amanda Calderon
from Poetry July,August, 2014