Dana Sonnenschein

Hyenas

For J.B.

The Society of the Animals (“Declaration: Love each Other. Its usefulness is forever.”) by unknown Ethiopian artist

In the desert there are no echoes,
but in a deserted village, at night,
when an unearthly cackling sounds,
it resounds from wall to wall,
and in minutes the whole fire-team
sits in a circle, facing out, surrounded
by whooping, screaming, moaning.

The marines can’t see, but they know
it’s hyenas, come for the dead
or the soon-to-be.  Hair bristles
on sunburned arms and necks.
Their leader’s got green vision,
but the focus isn’t adjusted right,
so he glimpses only blurred shapes,

hunched and heavy-headed,
hulking here and there.  No one dies
before light, and he doesn’t lose a man
in Afghanistan.  But within two years
four of his friends are taken by hyenas.
Not the spotted, snaggle-tooth,
scraggle-fur ones, giggling with stress

as they circle beyond a perimeter
but slope-shouldered shadows,
creatures of a dread that hunts men
down, back home, all heart-thump,
muscle-clench, vigilance of sense
and dullness of feeling.  Laughing
because war is never over.

 

About the writer:
Dana Sonnenschein teaches at Southern Connecticut State University. Her publications include books of poetry and prose poems (Bear Country, Natural Forms, No Angels but These, and Corvus). Recent work has appeared in Memory House, The Ekphrastic Review, Permafrost, Feminist Studies, Poppy Road Review, and Terrain.org’s Dear America anthology. Dana Sonnenschein is also a contributor to the 2021 O:JA&L Broadside Series.

Image: The Society of the Animals (“Declaration: Love each Other. Its usefulness is forever.”) by unknown Ethiopian artist. Oil on linen. 133.4 x 92.4 x 3.7cm. Between 1965 and 1975. By free license courtesy of Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures.