Washing the Elephant

Monday, July 15, 2013
The river will protect you from her
only so much. How can it, perched
as you are on a forehead
the size of a coffee table? As if washing a house
with a toothbrush, as if swimming
among the pyramids. What hope
to deflect the powerful trunk but to stroke
the animal’s scab-rough pate, to search her eye
that rolls up at you from its bed of lashes,
fathomless and too familiar?
If largesse is what defines the elephant
then for you it is the capacity to be bored.
Yet aren’t you both vulnerable
to sunburn and mosquitoes, suffering
the attentions of those more forceful
than yourselves, their desires for novelty
and labor both attached to their attraction
to your forms? The differences between you
are obvious: her ancient, battered body
which generates reverence the way your own
generates scorn; her crushing,
vulval mouth, her toenails big as lotus leaves.
Yet, like you, she measures the world
according to its reactions to her. From this,
how can she not believe everything is scared?
That, seeing us place her image among
our other deities, we treat our gods as slaves?
Meanwhile, inside her is the usual
universe extending out and down, a dark
that grows like a galaxy accruing
new arms, gathering new meanings, stars
behind stars. Only we want to be perfect.
She has had to learn to withstand
our love, bowing at the urgings
of our knees, torn ears trailing
in the river’s mud. She stands
while we swim circles around her,
swaying to the beat of her heart which,
when you put your head under water, you can hear:
that dark drum your own blood echoes; can feel
as good as eternity.
Monday, July 1, 2013