Bestiary for the End Times

Sumatran Elephant (Sumatra)
Pliny says
that elephants are
intelligent & righteous
revere the stars
& worship the sun
& the moon.
– W.G. Sebald
In Lampung Province I saw a coal train perhaps as long
as your wild herds might have been, or twice again as long
or only half – who knows? The soot-blackened sky
went wild with jets of monsoon rain clouding darkly
over the cemented seaport, the terminal end of the trainline
where the pitch-black piles were loaded onto Chinese
freighter ships. And where were you, whose mineral bones
fill the earth the anthracite abandoned? And where were you,
whose generations once howled in love with a wilderness
of ironwood and ebony? You were holding up the world,
riding the back of a turtle; you were throwing your tusk at the moon,
standing on the spine of a serpent, accompanied by rodents,
a necklace of skulls across your leathern chest. Your mordant
jewelry somehow presaged your quick demise, your tusks sawn
to the root while you yet lived, your face torn off to a bloody hole,
your treetrunk legs amputated and hollowed for umbrella stands,
the tail that gave you equilibrium cut off and made into a useless
decorative thing. It reminds me of the story of three blind men:
one detects a tree trunk, the second a jungle vine, the third a granite cliff
but none can see the whole, nor know it is an elephant they touch.
Had we once touched an elephant, the elephant we touched is gone.
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