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Hollow Boom Soft Chime: The Thai Elephant Orchestra

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A sound of far-off thunder from instruments
ten feet away: drums, a log,
a gong of salvage metal. Chimes
of little Issan bells, pipes in a row, sometimes
a querulous harmonica.
Inside the elephant orchestra’s audience,
bubbles form, of shame and joy, and burst.
Did elephants look so sad and wise,
a tourist thinks, her camera cold in her pocket,
before we came to say they look sad and wise?
Did mastodons have merry, unwrinkled faces?
Hollow boom soft chime, stamp of a padded foot,
tingle of renaat, rattle of angklung.
This music pauses sometimes, but does not end.

Prathida gently strokes the bells with a mallet.
Poong and his mahout regard the gong.
Paitoon sways before two drums,
bumping them, keeping time with her switching tail.
Sales of recordings help pay for their thin enclosure
of trampled grass. They have never lived free.
Beside a dry African river
their wild brother lies, a punctured balloon,
torn nerves trailing from the stumps of his tusks.
Hollow boom soft chime, scuff of a broad foot,
sometimes, rarely, a blatting elephant voice.
They seldom attend the instruments
without being led to them, but, once they’ve begun,
often refuse to stop playing.

Source: Poetry (May 2011)
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Hollow Boom Soft Chime: The Thai Elephant Orchestra

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