Oviedo Encounters the Sloth in Brazil


The first invention of Musicke might seeme by the hearing of this beast, to have the first principles of that Science, rather then by any other thing in the World.
– Gonzalo De Oviedo, 1526

Its four limbs cannot carry it on earth
but drag the body with birdlike claws,
belly weaving a trail in the dust.

Too slow for sport, with a mouth too small to bite,
it does not defend itself from capture
or bring any profit known to man.

It cannot be hurried, can never be hurried
by threats or sticks, even when it sees a tree
where its one desire is to climb
with long arms and claws that reach 
as if through honey to the highest branch

where it is lost in quietude
among leaves and birds. No one has seen it eat
anything but air, as it turns its face to the wind,
a round child’s face with a dark stroke across each eye

painted carelessly, an animal half-formed, a friend of darkness, 

quiet by day but singing at night, six notes up the scale and down 
as a man may sing do, re, mi, fa, sol, la
this creature calls ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah in perfect pitch

composing the first music of this New World and all the marvels in it.

Sherry Mossafer Rind is the author of five collections of poetry. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Anhinga Press, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission, and King County Arts Commission. Her most recent book is Between States of Matter from The Poetry Box Select Series. https://sherryrind.wixsite.com/writer

Image Credit: Myagi