CONVERSATION WITH A BURCHELL ZEBRA FOAL AND HIS MAMA
30 March 2002
I came across you
in a sunny clearing in the forest
you, your mama, and another.
At first I stood and talked
as I have always done
to other zebras at other times …
not knowing …
not knowing what was shimmering on the edge of my universe.
Perhaps it was because I spoke to all of you at first,
though the third was more interested in grazing
and didn’t reply at all,
but Mama listened, assessing me,
and somehow I felt her approval and friendship
and a bonding of mothers.
It was as though she felt it good manners
on my part
not just to charm her baby without
announcing myself and my intentions.
I told her of her beauty
and that Burchell zebras
are my favourites,
and somehow she sensed
that every word I said was true.
I told her how exquisite
her little foal was,
not newborn, but just old
enough to scratch his ear
with his hindhoof
and how adorable that was
but how I was concerned that
Little One may have had earmites,
but then I repeated to her
the voices of my education
which told me that that was not an issue
for wild animals
and she listened to all this
twitching each ear independently
as you did too,
listening to every word.
and I turned to you
and told you how clever you were
and by then, Mama was totally at ease
and I swelled with pride and love and gratitude
for Mama’s trust
and she replied with more ear twitches
and placid deep gaze eyes
and grazed in the summer sun,
it was mostly you I was talking too,
for the more I talked, the more you listened,
enraptured by my voice
and the tales I told,
Arabian Nights for Zebra Foals,
and Mama listened still
but in the background
as though trusting you too
to know the lessons she’d taught.
I told you how your stripes
flowed up into your mane,
and said for you to know
how smart that looked
to look at Mama’s mane -
and she looked up from her grazing
for a moment.
I told you how God gave you your beautiful stripes
of black and white and shadow brown
in dappled light
to guard you from danger
and you listened and twitched an ear.
I told you of Flicka, my horse,
and details of how horses are different
and of how they are the same
and you twitched your ears
and held your head at times
on one side as though amazed.
We talked and talked and talked
and the sun warmed our different backs
and then the moment came …
You took a few steps towards me
on little zebra feet.
I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.
I held my breath with bursting joy
for I thought Mama would stop you …
but she didn’t.
She looked up …
and went on grazing.
I thanked her for her trust -
she twitched an ear and looked at me
placidly and accepting,
zebra of the wild she was,
then you and I resumed our conversation.
I felt as though in a dream.
The moments were brighter than the sun.
We talked and talked and our conversation
became more and more intense …
and then …
you took a few more steps towards me,
cautious, as Mama had taught,
but curious and unafraid …
the pinnacle of happiness for me,
for now you were but a Mama-zebra length away.
Your eyes and mine held each other
and we talked and talked of all things
like the beauty of the summer day
and the blue, blue cloudless sky.
I wanted time to stop
and then found I was wrong about the pinnacle of happiness
for it stretched further still …
for you took yet more steps.
I thought my heart would explode with love and trust,
but this time you had crossed the boundary
of Mama’s comfort, but not her trust,
for all she did was to wander a few steps slowly out of sight,
- no call, no fear, no rushing between us, no lashing out at me
with her tiny sharp, sharp hooves -
just a few steps out of sight, knowing you would follow.
But so much gratitude and love and trust had passed
in that golden triangle, that I could not have wished for more.
Thank you my little zebra darling
and not least Mama dear
for the sacred moments
of bonding with a baby zebra
and his Mama
in a conversation
that will take me back
to every word and twitch of ear
at every recall,
and each time I return
to your vast grassland hills and riverine forest home,
I’ll look for you my baby zebra, and your Mama
and when you’ve grown
I’ll search the depths of every zebra’s eyes
and talk my soul deep into his or hers
in the hopes that
it is you
my little zebra foal.
Diana van den Berg