“Riding the elephant” and why I wrote it

Riding the elephant
 
There is an elephant king
lying flat out on the ground,
wasted.
His life was giving rides.
 
I know exactly how he feels,
that’s the crazy part . . .
To be used I mean,
by those with tiny dreams.
 
(Elephants actually walk on their toes!
They barely make a sound
because the pads of their feet
surround what they step on.)
 
This old one is done tip-toeing,
is lying in the dust,
imprisoned by the scale
of what used to be his eminence!
 
His trumpeting voice
reduced to a mere
fluting in his brain;
whatever he once wanted to trumpet.
 
He used to dream of rampaging
through the village,
bulldozing huts,
scattering the tiny people.
 
How hard it is sometimes
to remember
to be proud
of what we are.

Elephants have always been special to me. They are one of those animals that I rate as superior to humans, even by the standards we impose to establish our supposed superiority to all other forms of life. They are wise and thoughtful, intelligent and soulful. They are  personable, private and sociable. They are loving and companionable, patient and self-sacrificing. They have their own thoughts and they are creative. (Google elephant painting flower.) . . . Not to mention, graceful, powerful and grounded. The one that I saw in the photo was spent, having weathered a long life of service giving rides to tourists.  It’s body, flat out on the dusty ground, reminded me of how I have felt at different times in my life, drained by work that had chipped away at my self-esteem, leaving me almost nothing to salvage, jobs that wore me down and made me forget that I was once all those adjectives that I just used to describe the mighty elephant. One could do worse than emulate the elephant. I wish them all well. It occurs to me that you either “get” animals or you don’t. I started out saying that elephants are special to me but actually I don’t  pick favorites. They are all my teachers.They are all amazing.

The last four lines asks us to to reflect on what we do with our lives, not necessarily what we do for a living, but how we spend our time and energy . . . maybe take a moment to draft our own eulogy, which is what this poem is. It pays to remember “what we are” while we still are whatever that is, and, if at all possible, to be proud of what we are, and to trumpet while we can.

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