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Ano Nuevo
by Alison Deming

A man with four children
crowding like saplings around him
whistles to wake up
the elephant seal who has hulked
his impossible body onto the beach.

A loser, says the egghead kid. The winners
herd onto the Point with females and mate.

Cameras, scopes, and tripods.
And the seal sleeps, his buried heart
rippling the surface of his flesh
like something beginning to boil.
He sleeps on his face. His snout
flaps against the sand when he snores,
shapeless neck wearing
the crusted garland of blood.

He doesn't move when the occasional wave
washes around him. A breathing rock.

People come down the beach
with their red plaids and pink stripes.
A woman walks six inches from the collapsed
warrior without looking. They want the animal
to acknowledge them, to care
as much about the human presence
as they care about his. They want him to ripple up
monstrous out of his torpor so they
can run back to safety, laughing.

Sometimes a tremor will pass
along his length as if to shake off
the body's necessities.
The surf is a white cuff
trimming the placid ocean and the right-angled
cliffs glisten with buttery sunlight.
the picnics continue, the cameras, and hawks.

Now a white-haired docent arrives,
draws with his presence
a circle twenty feet wide.
Even so, some still need reminding.

Now the side flipper
stretches up, its hand flexing
as the creature sighs deeper into sleep,
the combat falling from his mind.

Alison Hawthorne Deming is the author of The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence (Louisiana State University Press), Science and Other Poems, Temporary Homelands: Essays on Nature, Spirit and Place, and is the editor of Poetry of the American West. She is director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. This poem is selected from Science and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press), which received the 1993 Walt Whitman Award of The Academy of American Poets. Alison is a regular participant in The Orion Society's Forgotten Language Tour.

If you'd like to order her books (and others), please visit The Orion Society Bookstore.

This poem was originally published in the Spring 1994 issue of Orion. To order a copy of this issue, please visit The Orion Society Marketplace, call (413) 528-4422, write The Orion Society, 195 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or e-mail us at

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