A cold sunny morning in Cambridge. Pragmatical
realists, my friend and I out strolling along Mass Ave
when suddenly we saw a colossal elephant ambling
in our direction, padding slowly north, on its own,
past the modernist law school dorms, past
the Spa and the package store, past the blinking
traffic light and the credit union. Past us.
A reasonable seasonable idle November day,
yet a peaceable giant was suddenly trodding
our mundane macadam, a prodigiously long way
from its African home. Dolorous, like elephants
I’d read about who remember their dreadful griefs
and losses, the slaughter of their kin.
Maybe it’s myth they bury their dead
then travel back together many miles to mourn
on anniversaries. Mystics, melancholy mystics.
Tears of the elephants, tears at the gravesites,
trumpeting lamentations, the somber grandeur
of their jungle yahrzeits. Foundations of the natural
history museum began to shake, the ingenious
delicate glass irises trembling, the gorilla’s threadbare
stitching split—kapok afloat in the airless Hall
of Grand Mammals! A stuffed ibis woke and grunted
to a dead egret in ancient Greek. What could I make
of this sudden elephantine apparition,
this unlikely hallucination Lloyd and I were sharing?
What algorithm led a descendant of mammoths
to journey—where?— unhurriedly past Harvard Square?
Well, as Saramago said, it’s not every day an elephant appears in our lives.
So we stood there, humbled, grounded on our concrete terrain,
as it lumbered earnestly toward Arlington, leaving us behind.
—(No one with any sense wants to be put into a poem.
But that elephant’s been asking for it for twenty years.)