The Elephant Poem by Dan Chiasson

The Elephant

How to explain my heroic courtesy? I feel
that my body was inflated by a mischievous boy.
Once I was the size of a falcon, lion-sized I was,
once I was not the elephant I find I am.
My pelt sags, and my master scolds me for a botched
trick. I practiced it all night in my tent, so I was
somewhat sleepy. People connect me with sadness
and, often, rationality. Randall Jarrell compared me
to Wallace Stevens, the American poet. I can see it
in the lumbering tercets, but to my mind
I am more like Eliot, a man of Europe, a map
of cultivation. Anyone so ceremonious suffers
breakdowns. I do not like the spectacular experiments
with balance, the high-wire act and cones.
We elephants are images of humility, as when we
undertake our melancholy migrations to die.
Did you know, though, that elephants were taught
to write the Greek alphabet with their hooves?
Worn out by suffering, we lie on our great backs,
tossing grass up to heaven—as a distraction, not a prayer.
That's not humility you see, on our long final journeys:
that's procrastination. It hurts my heavy body to lie down.

Dan Chiasson

Dan Chiasson

Vermont / United States
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