The Black Milk

(for Alec Finlay)

I still remember the rattle of the elk-cart delivering freshly-bottled elk.

*

Was it elk-milk, elk-urine, rendered elk, or a blend? I don’t know. But remembering the smell, the backs of my eyes sting just like they used to.

*

Father always woke us in the middle of the night to drink the fresh elk-juice. By morning it would be rancid, but in the dark it was delicious!

*

‘The Black Milk’ he’d call it, whatever it actually was. ‘The Black Milk is the coldest milk of all!’ Everyone had their own yellowbone straw.

*

I recall the bottles were hollowed-out alabaster – laborious work with the tools we had then. It seemed to glow in the darkness of the cave.

*

The Black Milk within the bottle was darker than the night itself – and this was the absolute middle of the night. The air above it wavered.

*

When you drank the elk-juice a terrible shudder passed through you, then a vast calm, as though a moon rose within you, illuminating permafrost.

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