Lyuba

Meredith Stafford

Bitter springtime in Siberia, 

she lay swaddled in snow. 

The frozen riverbank a cradle, 

the wind stung and winnowed. 

The rough hands that found her 

were neither gentle nor warm. 

They deemed her carcass an omen, 

small and shriveled and worn. 

 

Thousands of years from home,  

Little Lyuba, thirty-five days old, 

preserved pristine as untrod snow, 

seared and burnt by the cold.  

Riveted by the mammoth calf, 

sled dogs slavered and frothed; 

she, lying so still in her repose while 

they craved her skin to be soft. 

 

Crumpled on the steppe of her childhood, 

a breastfed baby too young to wean, 

her mother’s milk still pooled in  

her belly, a cold, dark grotto unseen.  

That cruel day that she went under,  

floundering as she drowned,  

she’d shivered and fought the riptide of mud  

as it drank her down. 

 

When at last found in her slumber, 

no tenderness greeted her on this side 

as she was stripped from her grave and 

sent aloft, rattling through the skies. 

Sparse fur stiff with chemicals,  

in a little glass house sit her remains. 

The peering eyes and pressing hands 

far from her own tundral plains.  

 

Rechristened as “love” in a modern tongue, 

resounding echoes through time 

of a mother’s love that failed to save  

on the day long ago when she died. 

Spring 2022