Electrocuting an Elephant

By George Bradley b. 1953 George Bradley
Her handlers, dressed in vests and flannel pants,
   Step forward in the weak winter light   
Leading a behemoth among elephants,   
Topsy, to another exhibition site;
   Caparisoned with leather bridle,   
Six impassive tons of carnival delight   
Shambles on among spectators who sidle
   Nervously off, for the brute has killed   
At least three men, most recently an idle   
Hanger-on at shows, who, given to distilled
   Diversions, fed her a live cigar.
Since become a beast of burden, Topsy thrilled
The crowds in her palmy days, and soon will star   
   Once more, in an electrocution,   
Which incident, though it someday seem bizarre,
Is now a new idea in execution.

Topsy has been fed an unaccustomed treat,   
   A few carrots laced with cyanide,
And copper plates have been fastened to her feet,   
Wired to cables running off on either side;
   She stamps two times in irritation,
Then waits, for elephants, having a thick hide,   
Know how to be patient. The situation
   Seems dreamlike, till someone throws a switch,   
And the huge body shakes for the duration   
Of five or six unending seconds, in which
   Smoke rises and Topsy’s trunk contracts
And twelve thousand mammoth pounds finally pitch   
To earth, as the current breaks and all relax.
   It is a scene shot with shades of grey—
The smoke, the animal, the reported facts—
On a seasonably grey and gloomy day.

Would you care to see any of that again?
   See it as many times as you please,   
For an electrician, Thomas Edison,
Has had a bright idea we call the movies,
   And called on for monitory spark,
Has preserved it all in framed transparencies   
That are clear as day, for all the day is dark.
   You might be amused on second glance
To note the background—it’s an amusement park!—
A site on Coney Island where elephants
   Are being used in the construction,
And where Topsy, through a keeper’s negligence,   
Got loose, causing some property destruction,
   And so is shown to posterity,
A study in images and conduction,   
Sunday, January 4th, 1903.

George Bradley, “Electrocuting an Elephant” from Terms to be Met. Copyright © 1986 by George Bradley. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press.

Source: Terms to be Met (Yale University Press, 1986)

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Poet George Bradley b. 1953

Subjects Relationships, Pets, Living, Social Commentaries, Death

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 George  Bradley


Poet and anthologist George Bradley was born in Roslyn, New York in 1953. He earned a BA from Yale, and took his master’s degree at the University of Virginia. His books of poetry include Terms to Be Met (1986), which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, Of the Knowledge of Evil (1991), The Fire Fetched Down (1996), Some Assembly Required (2001), and A Few of Her Secrets (2011). Bradley has worked as a construction foreman, a . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Pets, Living, Social Commentaries, Death

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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