Saturday, September 27, 2014

Elephants on the prairie

A lonely proboscis leading the search
Supported by flat footed pillars
Across dust bowls of an alien land
Longing for a blade of grass

A stream of tears feed the crust
Around its eyes
As the blazing sun
Bakes it in

Its tusks now shaped
Into lifeless figurines on a dusty shelf
Leaving white stumps
Appearing like bleached fingernails

It is a long way from
A prior life
As a ceremonial elephant
Parading the streets of a temple town

Pampered with coconuts
Laced with sugarcane
Siphoning sins and blessing heads
Passing under its trunk

Multicolored sashes with threads of gold
Decorating carved palanquins
To suit the rider’s mood
Of men in need of a pedestal

Calm in the wild
Free from captivity
Never at home in the city
Unlike feral dogs and cats

A single instinctual move
Not in tune with its duties
Would be rewarded by a cane
Not of the saccharine kind

Rules of the jungle
Drawn by men into stone
Different from ones
Chosen by wild instinct

Imposed by man on nobody’s land
Weaklings without guns or sticks
Those strong in mind
Choose a different path

A mahout’s bond
Isn’t give and take
An elephant must obey
When it is prodded and poked

A frenzied state of must
Always the undoing of the temple elephant
Chained to the chaste stone floor
Of a building promising liberation

It is never the fault
Of the elephant trainer
Paid a happy sum
To empty the forest of its keystone

At summers end
The elephant god
Of Eastern lore
Is worshipped in clay

An effortless remover of obstacles
Crushing fast growing trees of desire
Drawing lines in the mind
Guiding right or wrong

A symbolism lost
In ignorant minds
Looking for hope
Brought by wealth of the recent kind

While living cousins of these dry clay dolls
Soak in the rain, waiting
For arduous tasks
Suitable for their massive frames

The clay elephant
Is pampered with gaudy robes
Forgetting the lively gray
Of the real pachyderm

Traded like dolls
But worshipped as gods
Clay elephants fed choicest foods
That starving mouths would crave

A hungry elephant
Covered in dust
Stomps on lifeless dirt
Unaware of love wasted on mud

Dreaming of tall grass
To hide itself
From poisoned darts
Shot from hearts of stone

The great western prairie
Full of green fields of dreams
Waiting for hungry herds
East or West, hunger doesn’t care

Here an elephant would see
Not lions or tigers
But a humble prairie dog
Chased away to the edge of the West

Rooms bursting with men
Their desires, large as elephants
Chomping at them like prairie dogs
Chasing the last blade of grass

Rare are symbols of wisdom
As large as an elephant’s head
With an ego too small
To even fill a rodent’s crown

A soft trunk with muscles of steel
Easily adapts to a mighty load
Unlike a rigid mind encased in brittle ego
That fears adversity’s rise

A sight as incongruous
As an elephant on the prairie
Unless the travelling circus
Is in recent memory

In a city of lights
An elephant isn’t free
To see nature’s work
Beyond the reach of the ringmaster’s whip

Gentle giants of the forest
Can they hear every cruel whisper?
With ears that fan out
To the ends of the Savannah

The mettle of the king of the jungle
Mocks the cowardice
Under the camouflage
Of the poacher’s hat

Forests thrive
Despite the burning sun
But is no match
For what lurks in the swamps of the mind

As age ripens
On the tree of life
The low hanging fruit
Isn’t the elephant’s plight

Victims are usually mute
Silently praying
To be rescued
By time

Which is a bubble
Waiting to burst
Bringing joy only to those
Who are children at heart

To whom treachery
Is as alien as life on mars
Before they are cast
Into the mould of the world

Plants, animals and man
Share this spinning ark
Where the struggle for balance
Has been a million year campaign

Usurped by man
In a generation’s time
Destruction looms
Unless the noble fight

When humankind
Cares little about its brood
Whether it is an elephant calf
Or a child of another tribe

It is time to open minds
To the fate
That will be brought
In time

It’s never too late to learn
Mother nature yearns
To teach its offspring
To hunt, for joy in the mind

Which until now
Is an alien land
Pockmarked with scaffolds
For building castles in the air

N. Seshadri

(This poem is about elephants in captivity. It is dedicated to my wife, a Kansas native; she has been instrumental in setting up an elephant hospital in Jaipur, India along with Humane Society International)