Poet’s Notebook: My poem “What am I shouting? (A curse or a prayer?)” followed by a reflection, and now including a discussion with a reader. . .

What am I shouting?

I saw a photo of an elephant in a concrete cell
so alone.
She was holding her own tail with her trunk
to close the circle of
a loop of loneliness,
standing, eyes closed
to the long sentence of her life.
I just would like to know. . . 
I just would like to know! 
How can the intelligence that created such a creature
stand by and watch it suffer so.
And then I realized,
that’s me.
That’s all of us,
holding our tails in our trunks.
But were we not created to thunder
and trumpet
and love each other
as only elephants can,
crossing the great grasslands together
as a family?
And, as we slumber,
to be painted silver by the moon?
So, is that it?
because . . . so many years of standing back
and watching things unravel
have taken a toll on me,
on my elephant nature.
And so I shout out
into the tornado,
but what I shout
even I don’t

Reflection: When I saw this photo for the first time, of Mali, the “loneliest elephant in the world”, it made me heartsick. I mean something in me literally recoiled and it wasn’t a thought, or even an emotion that I could identify, like anger or sadness. It was more like a wrenching feeling that I couldn’t digest or process. I signed the petition and lived with Mali’s image, photographically etched into my soul. I’m going to be honest. Sometimes I receive notice of a petition about some kind of animal abuse, somewhere in the world, that I want to sign, but, out of respect for the sensitivity of my own heart, I avoid looking at the opening photo and skip right to the act of signing. Sometimes the image is too upsetting! In the case of Mali, it was as if my heart was saying, “I”m OK, I need to see this one.” And maybe that is because my heart knew it wanted to try to write a poem about Mali’s predicament. And when my heart cares so much about something, I listen. We all have our sore spots, those places that are like bruises that keep getting poked by the way the world is functioning these days, and because those bruised spots in our hearts or psyches actually hurt, those are the places that we tend to focus on and take care of in our own fashion. For some it is justice, for some it is child-trafficking, for some it is violence to women, for some it is poverty, for some it is abuse of power . . ., but, I’m just saying, for me, seeing a creature like Mali suffering like this, being denied a life by whoever is responsible for her misery . . ., this is where the world hurts me, this is where I am vulnerable, and, I suppose that if I ever stop feeling empathy for animals like Mali, I will be ready to move on, because I won’t know myself anymore. So, in this poem, I am expressing my helplessness to help Mali, and the suffering creatures everywhere she represents. And I am saying that how I really feel deep down, is beyond me to describe. The image that came to me was shouting into a tornado, and not being able to hear what I am shouting. Maybe it is a curse. Maybe a prayer. Maybe both.

Note: I posted this on a favorite site, OpEdNews, and received the following comment from Tony Orlando:
We write so another will help, or we write to share something beautiful. . .If this is heightened communication then maybe it is best to write where you show a positive outcome
building all throughout the story. Uplifting. Imagery needs no explanation, so explaining as you write is like writing before you are ready to send the message. It would be nice to see the elephant and the man hold hands, go out for lunch, and discuss what they want to do together the following day. I feel that showing people the benefit for good behavior, well, we need benefits for us to quit acting poorly. We acted poorly because it was in our interest, but if there is a better game in town, who would not want to hang out with an elephant in my small town. If there is no wind in people’s sails, then why keep writing about no wind; show what wind can do, how it can move you places.

Me back to Tony: Well, I’m sorry, but things have gotten worse as I see it and sometimes it is appropriate to shout into the storm or howl. . .It’s like those keening women in the East, who set up a collective wailing, by-passing the brain. Something you said really spoke to me: “Imagery needs no explanation, so explaining as you write is like writing before you are ready to send the message.” That is so true, for most things I write, but there is another type of poetry I am trying these days, where I stop writing when the paint is still wet, before it has all been processed, as long as it feels authentic and I’m not just writing for effect. In this poem, there was no satisfactory solution or outcome, for this beautiful animal. Some part of me (my soul?) was shouting into the swirling winds of the zeitgeist. Maybe better times will come, but right now I really can’t hear myself above the winds. It isn’t always this way, but I really do feel that on one level our plight parallels the elephant. Every time an animal teeters on the edge of extinction the world gets a little darker, the wind howls a little louder. We can solve all these problems, but for some reason we seem to lack the will, collectively speaking.


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