Neutral Ground (In Memory of the Western Black Rhino) by Jason Sturner

If I woke outside a dream then at the dream's shimmering edge I must have been. Nothing else could explain the rhinoceroses at my bedside, its massive form displacing all sense of proportion. Moonlight through the curtains gave it a ghastly glow.

We remained silent beast and man, thought I could hear its thumping tribal heartbeat deep inside my chest. I sat up, switched on the lamp. In response its head dropped slowly, a waterfall of dark blood spilling to the floorboards from its severed horn.

A rush of emotion blew the cobwebs off my formative years: the rhinoceros had been a childhood fascination. I had drawn them, collected books about them, shushed everyone in the room when they appeared on TV. I had rhino toys, posters and cookies. Like dinosaurs, they wandered innocently into my dreams, though never quite like this.

The images were horrific: an article in a recent issue of National Geographic, the uncensored reality of poachers and the sick demands of the medicinal black market, something childhood had never exposed me to-proof, perhaps, that the ground in a child's heart is always neutral.

Now I linger at the edge of some Kafkaesque dream. I'm well into adulthood-all my shapes in their corresponding holes; my coloring kept within established lines. At no other time in life has this been so obvious.

The rhino continues to bleed, its eyes fluttering on the verge of some primeval truth I cannot uncover. I want to sit with it, to feed it handfuls of green leaves until its horn regrows, until the African sun blazes high overhead and reveals an unbroken stretch of grassland.

But the rhino fades, and I come to realize new horns will not be spared; they will never be enough. And I think: if only the child inside me would rise up, turn warrior, shed his neutrality. He could forge a new horn out of steel, take up arms, build a wall against the encroaching world! He could do all that. And wouldn't it be something? That would really be something.

Jason Sturner

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