muddy and whorled, this elephant they tried once to hang
because she killed three men and survived
–Electrocuting the Elephant by Ciarin Berry
This morning I saw an elephant.
He stood on the levee, his trunk and tail sashaying in time with the joggers who swerved wide around him.
Audubon, we thought. Clearly he has escaped from Audubon.
But: No, the zookeepers said, we are not missing any elephants. Are you sure it’s an elephant?
Mine was not the only elephant spotted that day. Like bees they moved in packs and swarms, in the most unexpected of places.
How did we not notice their coming? My mother asked.
My father told her elephants make no sound when they walk. Their feet expand, contract. Expand, contract. A herd of elephants could surprise camouflaged soldiers trekking through the desert, one minute a dark smear along the horizon, the next silently smashing their well hidden tents.
What you have to understand about elephants, he said, is they remember their dead. Don’t cull one or two–but the whole family. Or they’ll keep coming back.
But a man on TV say it wasn’t the culled animals that brought them here. Not the copse of bones scattered among the acacia trees offending their evening strolls. We were too far away from ivory poachers.
Our crimes were Mary, hanged in Tennessee and Topsy’s smoking legs. It was Dumbo–altogether fictional–but elephants can’t discern the difference between two dimensions and three. It was Jumbo’s body and the whistle of a long stopped locomotive echoing across the Atlantic.
Whatever the reason: they came in parades, in memories–in flocks and sounders and huddles. They stood in line at the grocery store, at Starbucks and the Apple genius bar. They shouldered onto the subways–the smaller ones and those with contortionist sensibilities. When an old woman stooped to pick up her paper, she felt the slight brush of old leather against her skin and turned to find a slouched hairless cow in her den watching Hoda and Kathie Lee.
The elephants did not eat or drink from our kitchens; they were mindful of the furniture.
They paused for school buses and obeyed traffic signals. They did nothing to suggest a nefarious mind or purpose, but since we could not think of a non-nefarious reason for their gatherings, we of course defended ourselves. We pushed at them, glowered at them, shooed them with broom handles. We were always quick to lock our doors and windows, shuttering them against their dark stares, and our unfortunate neighbors who found themselves unwilling hosts to their bulk. We walked in groups with cattle prods and automatic rifles–which we did not fire but were always considering.
The 6 o’clock news displayed maps of sightings and campings–cities and rural areas were equally infested. No one had news of how they crossed the oceans leading one red headed newswoman to suggest “clone door” and “San Diego Zoo” and “Cal Tech fraternity prank”.
The elephants did not speak, and we did not speak to them.
They merely stood.
And then they began to rock.
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