The Elephant

By Dan Chiasson Dan Chiasson
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, the size of a lion,
          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 in my mind

I am more like Eliot, a man of Europe, a man
          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:
          it’s procrastination. It hurts my heavy body to lie down.

Dan Chiasson, "The Elephant" from Natural History. Copyright © 2005 by Dan Chiasson.  Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: Natural History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

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Poet Dan Chiasson

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Death, Relationships, Pets, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

 Dan  Chiasson

Biography

Poet and critic Dan Chiasson is author of three books of poetry: The Afterlife of Objects (2002), Natural History (2005), and Where's the Moon, There's the Moon (2010). A book of criticism, One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America, was published in 2006. He reviews poetry regularly for the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review. He has received the Whiting Writers' Award, a Pushcart Prize, and a . . .

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Poems by Dan Chiasson

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SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Death, Relationships, Pets, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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