The way elephants stand when turning
to one side, a foreleg splayed
off center, like a very young child
learning to walk. And the level angle
of the head, facing front.
Looking, looking, nothing to hide.
Only the eldest races
achieve such radical innocence.
Baby elephant peering out
from among its mother’s legs, housed there,
a small deer in a close grove.
Dressing for the journey, the huge bull in Quarterly West & in Homeland
flings a cape of mud across his back,
drenches his ears, his legs—
a pour-on garment he finishes
with a thick matte of dust:
shield against sun and the razor jaws
of insects. Suitably attired,
he steps into place.
Deep in your many-corridored memory
a thick, worn volume falls open.
You draw up short,
trunk raised at the scent of blood.
Repulsed, you begin a heavy, angry dance,
moving in place for some moments,
then back-step a dignified retreat.
The wiser monarchs
were slow to punish, knowing the power
of the forbearing gesture. Long ago,
did your strange-shaped ancestors
decide against the breaking of flesh?
The vast brain, the large, gentle heart
forming themselves slowly out of the grass.
Down on your knees, prying loose
wafers of baked mud you munch
for essential minerals with gourmandise,
spading the rich soil deeper,
deeper, till sometimes you disappear
into delicious grottos. So may our
sincere, enamored hunger
lead us ever farther
into the expedient earthly chapels.