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, 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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