Hippopotamus Amphibius

Michael Magee

As late as ten thousand years ago
they flourished in Asia, Europe, Africa.
Now they are confined to the above-
ground pool in my backyard - or,
to the upper course of the Nile River
in the Sudan southward to South Africa, or to zoos.

Hippos live in groups approximately
the size of an Irish-American family
of the 50's, 7-15 animals. Their young
gestate for one month less
than ours, and are about the weight
of a beautiful woman. Their lips
have been described as "horny."

In the breeding season, males engage
in sometimes fatal battles, the roughnecks.
Their incisors and canines grow
continuously as they are worn down, but they live
with the danger of these good-ivory teeth.

Their pink glandular oils have been
mistakenly labeled "blood sweat"
though we should more appropriately
mistake them for Coppertone TM the way
it protects them. They do not ruminate
despite their girth. But I have

seen them (and this is why I tell
their story), albeit on television,
move through water like the fat child
whose ballet you did not expect
to be so graceful. Under water

ten minutes at a time they become
buoyant; they are the river-horse justly named,
gravity and fat defying, no longer
the land plodders, the grumblers and grunters
threatening with enormous yawn -

you want to be carried off on their backs
as they carry their young, trust in their
liquid wisdom, their water wit,
their river-horse-sense, as they roll
over rotting logs and mud-bottom-sludge,
brush vegetation and schools of fish: my god,

they float to the point of flying
and how it surprised me - so much that
you can surely forgive me for bringing
a relatively small and gentle one here,
bumming one-minute rides in my pool since breakfast.

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