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A Poetry of Elephants

Poems kindly contributed by Daphne Gloag, Simon Williams, Steve Smart, Alison Lock, Shirley Wright, Wendy Klein, Graham Burchell, Kymm Coveney, Jenny Hamlett, Emma Lee, Katharine Waudby, Rose Cook, Valerie Morton, Terry Dyson, Rosie Barrett, Karen Jane Cannon, Lesley Quayle, Jean Stevens, EE Nobbs, Sally Douglas, Anna Kisby, Abigail Robinson, Jennifer A. McGowan, Rebecca Gethin.

Copyright of all these poems remains with the writers but A Poetry of Elephants has been created by Rebecca Gethin

To use silence so well: if I could choose for people one attribute of elephants, I’d choose this.

Katy Payne, Silent Thunder, 1998

The idea of the elephant is imperishable Arthur Schopenhauer 1833

The proper study of mankind is man, but when one regards the elephant, one wonders. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, 1734

Formerly, elephants could go anywhere they pleased and assume any shape; they roamed as they liked in the sky and on the earth. Matanga-Lila of Nigeria, 10th century.

Precisions So accurately the trunk's tip grasps a clump of grass, delicately rolling up just far enough then without haste swinging the morsel to the vast mouth. Loving the precision we touch each other's fingertips. Such calm and almost grace as the thick feet slowly step across the dust move us. We discuss the great flaps of ears as the elephant flicks her trunk to the barrier alert in air. Has she really grabbed cameras and bags as the notice warns? We love each other wondering and absorbed. Daphne Gloag From 'Diversities of Silence' (Brentham Press, 1995)

Trail The elephants move early on this road; up and down their great flat feet squash the pavement into hard relief. We wake to their trumpets. I think it’s the river draws them, they must drink and wallow in its green excesses, slap the dredged mud on their hides. Every morning they come; bulls, cows and wild, exotic rogues. They shake our small room, rattle at the casement, barge against the walls. They’re a big herd and it's wrong to kill for ivory, yet, every morning, hunters come in cars and vans and vast pantechnicons. I rise at seven thirty, dress in skins that fit like city clothes and follow down their trail. I never see them. The hunters must work fast. Simon Williams

In the Poem We talked of many things: shoes and ships, the weather (being British), the difficulty elephant of buying shoes in large sizes. We spent a while on the winter, which was hanging on like a hero elephant in an action movie, hoped April would stamp on its hands. But you didn’t ever broach the subject and I was too elephant polite to bring it up. So I never found out where your trousers went. Simon Williams

The End of an Elephant’s Tail The words did not match the object, Though both were genuine and correct, Neither jungle book nor catalogue, Could vindicate the actual amputation. Never seen in life, small and last, There to thrash my insect torments, Held tight unhanded chasing aunty, Always a child to her unforgotten bulk.

Steve Smart

The Trunk She gave me a string of rosebuds, cream, scented with almonds inherited from an uncle who’d stalked the plains of Africa. Too heavy for my sapling neck they adorned my doll Angelina, and when the threading cord was broken I placed them in a trunk where they lay for years until the day when a man on the TV pointed to a carcass; captured, de-tusked discarded by poachers. Tipping over the trunk I let the ivory beads run free. Alison Lock first published in ‘A Slither of Air’, Indigo Dreams, 2011.

Nellie has packed her trunk

We are such unruly upstarts, with our peremptory snorting. We stamp through the lovely land on murderous feet, flog ivory trinkets carved in blood, raze the bush and create carnage in our wake. We should have more fun. We should roll about in mud and squirt water fountains, splash the day away in a clear blue lagoon. Like elephants that sing their holy songs across the vast savannah, we should go in quiet wonder where they walk the earth with dignity. How we must grieve them with our little hearts and digital cameras. We have smartphones to capture beauty now our eyes fail to see, so busy are we with poaching, burning and overall destruction. Our world-view lacks the necessary pixels for grace. We are circus clowns. Shirley Wright

The Little Brown Elephant

In 1912 the Bogd Khan, last religious emperor of Mongolia, purchased for 22,000 roubles, a little brown elephant, who was transported for 8 months, by train and foot, to Ulaan Bataar.

Fresh blossoms would have greeted the little brown elephant; incense, a plated brass crown draped with red velvet, fringes of coral and pearl tickling his papery ears. Between the three lamas hired to care for him; he would have walked, trunk swaying in time to his cheerful gait; the drone of the morin khur, unaware of what awaited him: the whip crack to teach him circus tricks, the chain that would tie him in front of the winter palace; his slow starvation, forgotten after the death of his master, the triumph of the people. Today men scatter grass seed on dry flower beds, hope for rain to green it; trundle home with back-ache, loaded with beer and vodka to rooms in concrete blocks to help them dream open meadows, wild horses.

Wendy Klein

The Open-Sided Classroom My turn to guide their sharpened pencils; to deliver checklists, warnings, fact-sheets. Hippos eat the fruits of sausage trees. Monkeys drink from red-lipped flowers. Tell them, here’s what you may see. Tick it if you do. The open-sided classroom shaded young minds from the heat of excitement beneath the stitches of its roof. But a holding pen open to that yellow, green, brown theatre of sound, was a hard place to be serious in. Had them corralled, chained to their concrete pillared desks, with words; commands (sit! stay!) when they were three, four steps away from their games - from the buzz. And then a bull elephant started to cross the Lufupa - head our way. The first one I’d seen from a classroom. What banter, wonder, hullabaloo ensued, before I hushed the fuss, allayed the inclination to stampede, and shepherded them, a crocodile, to a safer place. Now I wonder which child was the first to spot it, attracted by ears waving, trunk, tail and huge maleness swinging as it rose from the shallows? Who was it amid the fracas, skimmed the pages of their checklist to find elephant before the others, and next to it, draw a long probing tick?

Graham Burchell, from ‘The Chongololo Club’

Baby Rain held forth in the jungle Under the banana leaves, Below the persistent ferns. Bedlam seemed a more perfect answer to the Endless dripping against the Rubber plants. Broken fronds lay in ruins Across the path laid out By the baby elephant that ran Yelping after its mother. Bogus mining carts wheeled along Ugly logging roads in the soft Golden light of morning like old-fashioned buggies Guided by black-hooded nannies along Oz’s Yellow-brick road. Bands of furtive eco-poachers, Using refurbished artisan-quality Machine guns as they elbowed and Pushed rhythmically against Each other like boats against bumpers, Raided the lone shelter under the quiet Softly falling cover of the rain. Kymm Coveney

Elephant Opera Company

Always loud - coming or going we could not get rid of them fast enough. Neither fashionable nor punctual - unwieldy, spectacular, lumbering they ate up all the adornments that kept us safely disguised and then would not leave until the fat lady sang.

Kymm Coveney

Ivory Elephant

I was innocent once, trusted to play with Grandpa's ivories from the glass cabinet. I was not to touch the Crown Derby. Tiny white figures, displaced teddies, became kings and queens in my stories.

They owned a huge creature with a long trunk. On the blood red carpet I guided them to care feeding him, washing his hide like Toomai does in The Jungle Book. I did not know I played with the elephant's tusk.

As I grew, understanding spread like mould across the kitchen wall. A man had taken a gun into a sacred land and shot the breathing, huge beauty of the elephant, not to eat, but for greed as if elephants were inexhaustible.

Jenny Hamlett , published in ‘Sarasvati’

A Queen's Elephant Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587) A stone-grey, like these prison-castle's walls, for its body, the elephant appeals: large, lumbering, appearing aged and wrinkled. I was crowned at six days old and promised in marriage but was forced to give my throne to my son and turn to the English queen for protection, despite growing taller than most men. I hoped she'd see a fellow woman. I was implicated in the Babington plot. A mistake, the elephant helps me forget. There's dainty elegance in its fanned ears in Icones Animalium. I'll wear red for the scaffold, a wig over my grey. Stitched eyes see my courage in adversity. Emma Lee

Jumbo (1860-1885) Jambo Jumbo torn from home. Ciao Jumbo performed for Rome. GrĂźĂ&#x; Gott Jumbo iced and dropped. Bonjour Jumbo Rhino swapped. Hello Jumbo tusk stumps chained. Howdy Jumbo circus trained. Kwaheri Jumbo aged 24: died. Jambo Jumbo stuffed his hide. With your jumbo meal and coke. Remember Jumbo and how he broke. Katharine Waudby

Take my Feet Walk in my soft-treading feet heel-toeing the familiar line between thorn bush and auburn grass; follow my mother while my child follows you; hear thunder in stories from way past Takoraradi 'arbour and Timbuktu; feel each step plump; marsh mallows by the water hole; Blood coloured mud shines your nails when you drink trunkfuls, sweet as frappĂŠ from ivory cups, between curving carved ladies heads dressed with graven peach blossom and lotus; walk in my feet then hack them off to make umbrella stands?

Katharine Waudby

Autobiography in Two Chapters

Well, I started out in the Great UpNorth, where the wind cuts and the hills are large and glaciated, like Austrian valleys, and folk are friendly and the snow falls to the tops of walls and it's cold in August, sometimes. That is, a lot. Not boring you am I? I moved to the left, near Morecambe coast and lived in bedsits damp and brown with gas rings, mildewed carpets, landladies. Still, I met crazy people and fell in love, laughed at the wallpaper, forgot my mum and dad. Never wore slippers.

Went to Scotland, found some space, saw the Northern Lights, made candles, stuff... Ended up here in Leyline City, with four kids, four goldfish, some books and an elephant who is difficult to feed. He's rude and produces loads of crap. So I bagged it and sold it. Big business, the Elephant Crap business. Someone in the council found out about the elephant, they weren't very nice, said we couldn't keep him. We filled their hallway up with dung, so now we're in deep shit. We hid him in the attic, my elephant. He's pretty cool. The floorboards creak, that's all. He's introspective, watches sparrows and clouds, writes poetry.

From ‘Everyday Festival’ by Rose Cook, pub HappenStance 2009


I am slow. I am sway. I am echo. The great earth holds me. I am ship. I am flow. My bones are of whales. I am large and grateful. I move with no hurry. There is time. We have time. Watch my eye. With it I see you and the shine of colour, which fills me till my grey skin rustles. I know there is an always happiness here even in the mud. The frog knows.

Follow me. We will go in procession. Follow and feel the rhythm of my walk. Slow, slow. My steps sway you, I will rock you to beyond yourself. Be yourself Be more than you have ever been. Be what you have always been. Be with me. Be with me. Follow. Follow me.

Rose Cook

In Memory

They come slowly through the bush huge feet heavy in the dust a whole family of elephants, babies to grandmothers seek the place where the headless body of their sister lies. They nudge her sniff her, take her life away with them.

Jenny Hamlett, published in ‘Sarasvati’

The Elephant on my Mantlepiece (after Salvador Dali) floats on spidery, footless legs of desire, it’s body carrying a heavy burden, tottering as if the world could fall into the sand or float away into the thin air of temptation tight-tailed, straining to carry the world’s sin, shackled only by gravity – a reminder that without the uncertain nature of survival, man’s lust and greed will end its very existence. Valerie Morton

Bruno Tigs my toy St Bernard, knows all about elephants, (sitting scrunched on the window sill, feeling quite small).

Floor to ceiling Kipling’s characters leap through steamy jungle scenes, at odds with Brighton’s seaside breeze. Swanking

it up in a truncheon repeat; a metre width of frisk and wriggle where Cobran kings slide down the ladders of my bedroom walls, as

though alive. The elephants march in nonchalent two time beat, oblivious to the widemouthed crocs, waiting, just so, under my bed.

Terry Dyson

Not Going Away

The Elephant in the room makes itself known to the crowd. Glows in the corner in gloom, trunk high, it trumpets out loud. Makes itself known to the crowd, they smell the huge pile of dung. Trunk high it trumpets out loud, insists its story is sung. They smell the huge pile of dung and try to ignore the beast. Insists its story is sung won't let them enjoy the feast. They try to ignore the beast Its huge bulk blocks out the light, won't let them enjoy the feast, won't give in without a fight. Its huge bulk blocks out the light, Glows in the corner in gloom, won't give in without a fight. The Elephant in the room. Rosie Barrett

Mantra But you are my elephant and because others Don’t, I do. Four legs and a trunk. While you are remembered, you live, Are here, in the room. Pachyderms the pair of us. Rosie Barrett


You sit in my palm, time polished, perfect in reduction – once a whole herd pushing young to watering holes, fanning those great ears against the sun. Now just you, pale under moist fingertips, not much bigger than a thumb print, my palm is Africa, Asia, each dusty continent of footprints. A tiny trunk curves in a long forgotten call, a rope tail swings with nothing to hold on to. What sort of artistry or magic trick, conjures a creature so big, shrinks it to this – an exact replica, a blue print; a tiny ivory trinket, the colour of sand and milk, eyes of dull jewels. Why don't you take my little toe, shape fragile bone into a whole – place me on the palm of God, let him marvel at my soul.

Karen Jane Cannon

An Elephant On The Green

“Ladies and gentlemen, here on the green, in sleepy-town Calverley, a cobble-street suburb of the City of Leeds, we ‘ave ‘ere assembled the famous, fantastic, fantabulosa, tented enclosure of acrobats, fire-eaters, strongmen, strongwomen, a combo of clowns, a ringmaster renowned in the big-top from Great Yarmouth to Moscow – THE CIR-CUSS.” Us? We’re only here for the elephant, chained on the green like the rack-back, skin and bone, scabby totters’ ponies, but ten times the size, titbitting on elderflower and fat-budded dog rose, council grass, daisies, baps thrown by babbies, apples from lunchboxes, iced buns and Eccles cakes. Grey as a Yorkshire sky, solid as gritstone, it trunkles up everything, indifferently comfortable in its too big, runkled up, elephant skin. “Oi, Mister. If me Mam says it’s okay, can ah tek it ome?” Lesley Quayle

Convergent Evolution will occur inside that sleek spaceship (our destiny chosen from the Habitable Exoplanet Catalogue, the one with Earth Similarity Index of zero point eight) such that at Zero-G, not only hawks, swallow-tailed butterflies, little brown bats but also coconut palm trees, ornamental rhubarb, big wide-eared elephants pink wing-less pigs and dolphins will fly (and scores of angel fish, too inside special suits) After much time thus travelling (light years of it) we all grow parts that look like feathers EE Nobbs

Elephants in Zimbabwe

Troubled times. I’m the sole one on safari. The elephants run wild won’t always come, but one parades today, lifts his trunk in greeting, flaps huge ears to cool me, as I climb till high enough to scramble on.

It’s solid on an elephant’s back close to deep-wrinkled, leathery bulk sashaying through the bush while I adjust the grip of puny legs that ache already trying to match his sway.

I can hardly breathe, yet smile even when he curls his trunk around a tree, uproots it in a second rotates it to his mouth demolishes the lot, and strides on planting his feet.

I carry nothing. Have left behind my passport, camera, bag and keys and now all signs of the camp are gone no buildings, no landmarks, no paths

nothing to tell where we are and no-one but the mahout.

The sun pesters my skin and thin air parches my throat then we’re sloshing through rivers water inching up my shoes. On we go through thickets of trees smelling red earth his feet disturb

as we sway to the rhythmic swish of hide through stiffened green and yellow grass elephant-high and closing us in drawing us deeper and deeper. Held by this stoical beast I’m taken far into forgetting

forgetting poachers and poisoners a country at war with itself threading back through time’s needle towards the hidden spirit here until it’s only splash, thud, sway endless sky, bush and dust.

Jean Stevens From ‘Beyond Satnav’ published by Indigo Dreams.

Temple Elephant

Later, in a different, colder, grey, I still dream that agile blessing…

Dark floor, slick and pooled; our bare feet flash like fishes.

Ahead, an absence looming in the artificial night:

white spirals flake from mottled, chalky skin.

Her eyes so dark I cannot see.

I pay for this. Rupees are whisked into the mahout’s pouch

and her slow trunk rests on my head

as heavy as the bishop’s hand when he pressed god into me.

Clatter mutes to echoes. The breath

of wet stone shears my throat.

Outside, the gilded sunshine on a thousand painted prophets.

Inside – shadows and chains. I pay for this.

Sally Douglas

The Memory of Elephants Gentle one morning in my bed she tells me once we had a picnic with stones all around – she’s thinking of the Spring when she was one – visiting our dead in the churchyard at Hamsey. It’s 6am. Our winter room is gone – she’s seeing blossom again. In my head, she says, tapping the ivory-amulet of her skull, I have a remembering-thing – she leans in, breathes away my sickness and ill-will. I hold onto her like the memory of elephants – long extinct where we come from. Anna Kisby


Several elephants in the room sit drinking tea from China tea cups They pretend they have no wildness, they've lost their home They are tamed and chained but no longer know this. Those who see them pretend they are not there Yet I feel their edges drinking, the space shrinking, I'm afraid of shattering the China tea cups One day I know this herd will push me down like a tree, It is meant to be! Everything must return to the Earth, civilisation is already crumbling a notion rather than reality.... tearing the tusks from wild animals is a way to disembowel the soul of the earth. Abigail Robinson

A Sort of Love Story

If I were a were-elephant, in the night I would trumpet love loud and long, till the elephant equivalent of high C would make the moon explode and I would sneeze gouts of flame out my schnoz and sharpen my tusks on your front door till that last barrier broke down and you recognised me by the light of the burning moon and you would take matters into your own hands (because a fiery elephant is more than a handful) and try to get bitten by a were-something-else so that we could ride our lunatic fluxes together, but it wouldn’t be that simple: in your quest to be bitten by a were-tarantula you would cut your hand on a banana display and become a were-fruitstand, and whilst you would sate my full appetite for bananas (is that elephants or monkeys?) it would hardly be the basis for a fulfilling bipartisan relationship, now, would it? So put aside the tendency to believe we can only be satisfied by the improbable. Take my hand, touch my cheek, and we will make love by the light of a reasonable moon. Jennifer McGowan, first published in Prole.

Ganesh in Captivity

Eyes closed, fringed by thick lashes, his face stippled as leaves in sunlight. He snuggles deeper into the riverbed, water lapping at his flanks, sluicing over his hot, dry skin snorkelling with his nostrils, the tip nosing above the current. He settles under water, deep as he can get until a command from his mahout prods him to his feet, water pouring off his back, phalanges sensing the earth at each step like ears or antennae – a soundless tread, but for the clank of the chain. Rebecca Gethin

‘Some words exist on such fragile edges only a syllable away from being extinct.’

RG Dialect from’ River is the Plural of Rain’.

A Poetry of Elephants  

An anthology of elephant poems

A Poetry of Elephants  

An anthology of elephant poems