Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dan Chiasson, "The Elephant (III)"

When he hit me square on the head I said Better to die
this way than in obscurity, on the empty plain.

A heron and a hawk, a monkey carrying a monkey skull,
a lion on fire and a pack of eyeless wolves

were what I feared, my rib cage rocking to and fro
in the sun, in the wind, all day and night, a dinghy

anchored in rough seas. Not this: my body a sack of
garbage, hooves bound, the world turned upside down.

This is a beautiful country, said John Brown on his way
to the gallows, I have not cast my eyes o’er it before –

that is, in this direction.
And I said, What a beautiful banquet,
I am honored to contribute.
They cleaned my skull

with pulverized mica for their cornucopia: those were
my eye sockets overflowing with black grapes, herrings

lying in piles of their own, jewel-like, dewlike roe
made the the crown of my head, and the bride was beautiful.


From Natural History (2005)

Another slight cheat, as "The Elephant (II)" suggests that this poem is set in Ethiopia - but Africa nonetheless.

(More on Dan Chiasson:

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