We took vows,
two fools stepping off the cliff,
full of the soulful certainty that marks conquerors and mental patients.

Rome blessed us, I suppose,
just as it mocked Hannibal,
driving him to fits of genius and savagery.

When you haunt my dreams, I think about the elephants.
I know that um-thousand poor nobodies met their death in the mountains
just to satisfy one man's idee fixe.

I know that they had dreams, wives and children left behind,
empty bellies, infected feet, all the traveling gear of sufferers since time began,
but I lose sleep and peace only over the beasts they took with them.

We made a point, you and I,
not to mash the wedding cake in each other's faces as so many do.
We were as sweet as swans on a summer lake.

Elephants have eyelashes fit for shy nuns or reclining models.
They know low languages kept for themselves and their familiars,
and we know only dropped chances, blood, and stupidity.

Hannibal impaled and beheaded stragglers, complainers.
His own men's faces gaped from poles as warning to the rest to press on.
Was he any kinder to the elephants? 

We were undone by restless ghosts, of madness, and of remove.
Elephants truly do remember every beating, and every mercy,
every bone left behind, and every calf that lay still.

I loved you, and I love our son fiercely.
If I can't forgive you, it's because of the elephants and the insanity of snow and thin air.
Hannibal is dead. Rome still stands. 
Huge bones litter the Alps, with no heart mighty enough to find them, touch them, and mourn.

for "An Elephantine Challenge" at Real Toads.



hedgewitch said…
Elephants have eyelashes fit for shy nuns or reclining models.
They know low languages kept for themselves and their familiars,
and we know only dropped chances, blood, and stupidity...

This is so heart breaking, Shay. I see that long march of the madman/conqueror that we set out on, too many of us, life, a marriage, any obsession, without regard for what it will take from us, who it will destroy, and these elephants seem more like ourselves than our own selves can be, because they are wise enough to care more about each other, and to remember what matters...I just love the whole thing, but the stanza above and the ending literally made me hold my breath.
hedgewitch said…
I forgot to say I love the way you have paired so many things in many of your lines--like sets, like couples, or like elephants and calves.
Sanaa Rizvi said…
This is beautiful! Such a passionate write.

Lots of love,
Hannah said…
Oh my word...your closing sent chills. That's exactly what they do when they mourn. I watched a special on them that caused me to cry my eyes out...Beautifully emotive poem, Shay...I love your likening with the swan portion. So enjoyed your poem and the challenge...thank you!
Gillena Cox said…
Amazingly lovely, so much passion, so much credibility, so much wisdom. Yes life goes on even when the hurts remain

much love...
De Jackson said…
This is just a stunning juxtaposition of thought. Goodness.
I love the way this spills:
"of madness, and of remove."
Sioux Roslawski said…
This is gorgeous and haunting--all at the same time.
I feel as if I'd just taken that journey over the Alps.
Sherry Blue Sky said…
Wow. I....FELT....this poem so deeply, I have no words to tell you how wonderful it is. I, too, only care about the beasts, on all the treks humans take them on.........I figure humans have feet and voices and choices, and the beautiful beasties do not. I love how the personal came into this poem, and the love and long memory. This is a great great poem.
brudberg said…
I love how you layered the sorrow of those beasts with a personal story... just enough to make the mourning of the beasts (and maybe the men too) with a personal sorrow... this is how poetry should be written.
Kerry O'Connor said…
I am in full agreement with the speaker, who acknowledges human lives lost to folly, but mourns the loss of the exploited animals dragged along without even a voice to speak for them. This voice rings through the ages. I think the way you have tied the ancient past to the immediate past of the speaker is inspired.
Mama Zen said…
I was blown away by that stanza that Hedge already quoted. This is beyond beautiful and every shade of sad.
Lynn said…
I love the way you write.
Outlawyer said…
Hey Shay, the eyelashes are indeed wonderful and so apt for elephants and for their familiars--and there is an odd strange dichotomy between the black eyes of swans and the long-lashes of elephants. Marriage sometimes does not take prisoners. As a historical matter--I don't know about Hannibal and elephants--they may have valued them more than the men--does not mean they were kind, of course. Thanks for great prompt and poem. k.

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