The first animal you would find in the phonebook,
from Afrikaans (the queen of double-a words)
where aard means earth and vark means pig,
and last survivor of primeval hoofed animals,
with no relation to the pig, but a distant one
with elephants, the only living species of the order Tubulidentata
for the unique teeth, each a cluster of thin, hexagonal,
upright parallel tubes, up to 1,500 tubes per tooth
which wear away and regrow continuously,
though they don’t chew their ants and termites—
as many as 50,000 a night, as scientists have painstakingly
recorded—but swallow them whole and let their stomach
muscles do the grinding. They have a symbiotic
pact with the thirst quenching aardvark cucumber,
the only fruit they eat, whose seeds grow fertile
in their stomach, then, passed, spring up near the burrow
like a slow-motion water fountain. Burrows can be
forty feet long, large enough for a woman to enter,
although the encyclopedia said a man,
and they rearrange it, regularly, and then move on.
They give birth inside, and after three weeks,
the cub can hold its ears up on its own. To hunt, they leave home
at sunset, partial neither to bright or dark nights,
traveling up to eighteen miles in a zig-zag search,
and will not repeat a rewarding route for up to eight days,
letting the nests recover. Spoon-like feet,
and foot-long sticky tongue, it can close its nostrils
like a camel, but even the aardvark will avoid red ants.
On a lucky night, the columns are on the move
above ground, up to 130 feet long, which I imagine like
a bridal train the aardvark furls as it walks along.
There must be many things it cannot do, but a good
swimmer, witnessed successfully fording
strong currents, the aardvark is also an ace listener
and pauses outside its burrow a full ten minutes
to note the enemy python’s slur along the aard.


Jessica Greenbaum is the author of Inventing Difficulty (Silverfish Review Press, 1998), winner of Gerald Cable Prize; The Two Yvonnes (Princeton University Press, 2012), named by Library Journal as a Best Book in Poetry; and Spilled and Gone (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019). She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Society of America.


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