- Pangolin Scales
Youwrote, MissMoore, about howthe pangolin, streamingat high night from its stone-lipped burrow, trespassing on BelgianCongo moonlight, gibbous as a bell curvefrom its paginated tail to itsgummed tongue, prolongedfor trickling down ant-slickened trunkcrevices,would
swirlheadlong downthe impenetrable drain itmakes of itself (Malay pengguling:up-rolling thing), an involute, inexplicableglobe, plate lapping overlapping scalloped plate.Only now, Miss Moore, I hate to report, it's pluckedlike a junglesop fruit with its prehensile stem,and handed off to traffickers, who parade itinto some high-rolling private diningroom in Guangdong or in Ho ChiMinh City where its throat'sscis- [End Page 101]
soredsteaming at theupscale table as ardentproof of freshness and gratitude tothe client whose ummm! stimulates the ritualconsummation of the business deal. "Considereda delicacy," an anthropologically delicate phrase you'dhave relished, Miss Moore. But why? Nostalgie dela boue? More a nostalgia to be bush-meateaters minus the mud in the WildWest of Southeast China wherebusinessmen wouldbe men.
Fromthe black tricornerof my notebook ajar, thesearmored stanzas gleam expectantly.Yes, Miss Moore, there's more. Olive, tan,golden brown toenail scales, skinned or worked offliving pangolins one by one like artichoke leaves, scalessoft at first and milk white on the besotted nurslingriding its mammal's tail like a bath toy, tonupon ton from Malaysia, Indonesia,Zimbabwe, in luggage, undertimber, sacks of red beans,bound
for WestBerkeley Wellness, say,in the mild west of the East Bayon 7th street, away from traffic, wherematernal practitioners of Traditional ChineseMedicine, codified by Chairman Mao in the 1950s,invite us over from their homepage window,while visitors positively Yelp, and (nowunsearchable) pangolin scales, cooland salty as the Pacific, areadministered to promotemenstrual flow andlactation. [End Page 102]
John Shoptaw is the author of Times Beach (2015), winner of the Northern California Poetry Prize, concerning the Mississippi River watershed. He teaches poetry at the University of California, Berkeley.