Tim Bradford


"You never mention light
anymore," she wrote him from a rain forest
in Kansas, soon to be paved for The China Tombs
Mall, complete with fountains like volcanoes,
display cases coddling Meave Leakey's
latest finds, and limited-motion dancing mechanical leopards.

He, a mollusk on the Swahili coast and spotted like a leopard,
wrote back to say ignoring light
was second nature to mollusks, akin to Richard Leakey's
ignorance of cloud formations, stingy rain forests
in the African sky. "We live by the heat of underwater volcanoes,
unseen, and dream of being used as eternal cups inside China Tombs."

She read his reply, then stubbed her cigarette out in the China Tombs
ashtray he'd bought her on their honeymoon when they loved like leopards,
ate fresh figs and oysters, and toured the volcano.
"Think of something bimorphic, like light,
the way it's a wave and particle. Or the rain forests
of Chile next to deserts. Or the Leakeys'

fondness for AC. You could return like a Leakey
hominid, but with flesh, and still play at mollusk in the China Tombs
Bar at night. I love you like a rain forest
breathes for the earth. Come back, my leopard."
She sent the request at first light
and wandered among small copper pit slag heap volcanoes

instead of working. At night, she burned like a volcano.
Meanwhile, the mollusk traveled inland to help the Leakeys
look for their contacts under sheer walls of light
west of Kenya's Lake Turkana, thousands of miles from the nearest China Tombs.
Unfortunately, everyone save Meave'd been devoured by leopards.
Still, she sat looking, alone like an oasis rain forest.

"Meave," the mollusk called with a voice like a burnt rain forest,
"it's as hot as a fucking volcano
out here, not to mention all those pesky leopards.
Let's hitch back to Nairobi and use your Leakey
fame to score a hotel room with linoleum as cold as China Tombs.
Where Richard failed, I'll be as constant as the speed of light."

Weeks later, a final postcard reached her in Kansas like light through a rain forest
canopy. "Dear Dorothy, Adieu. Didn't make the China Tombs but discovered the volcanic
love of Meave Leakey, her paleoanthropologist kiss like a leopard's."





This poem is one of a series of sestinas that use the words from the spine of National Geographic as the repeating end words. The words on the spine don't always match the contents so well, and my poems further dislocate these words from "the facts."