92 Readings

Loving the Elephant



Loving an elephant is an act of moral arithmetic,

a deep-sea dive into a plastic kiddie pool.

To love what you must hunt and capture in order to love well.

Love as cruel and isolative, as wilful injustice.


Like most, my IRL elephant-viewing is limited

to the zoo and just once, when I was 8 in San Diego.

I remember nothing and a little more,

that the grandeur so far away from me


in one sense

yet mere yards away

in another was a thing

of massed proportion


very much alive and very much

different than my own aliveness.

I was 8, unsettled by what I could not

understand. Suddenly I wanted to go see the hyenas.


II. (World of Reference)


In her book My Dead, the poet Amy Lawless writes

“When an elephant dies

Sometimes the remaining elephants become distressed

Because there’s no evidence of an afterlife.


People like the word faith.

Elephants don’t.”

In his 1936 essay “Shooting an Elephant,”

George Orwell writes:


When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick—one never does when a shot goes home—but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line on his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralyzed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time— it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot.”


Knowing full well that the destruction the elephant caused in the small Burmese village was the result of (vast) human inconsideration, Orwell kills the elephant out of cowardice. A sub-divisional police officer, he cannot “look a fool” in front of those he has been charged to keep in line. This despite the fact that he hates his police work “more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.” But death to the elephant nevertheless. A moral arithmetic where 2 + 2 = power and control, always.  


In response to “Most beautiful elephant video,” a YouTube clip that details the widespread “human-elephant conflict” in India and Asia, viewer Inge B writes, “[H]umans are the worst kind of animal.” A few lines below her JohnnyGomez19 comments, “I fucking luv elephants but im sad I’ll never see them just mad chillin in [the] wild.” “I love elephants to death” writes isavin1730, simply.


III. (Humanity)


The hyenas were missing or

sick or it’s not important to recall.

When I tugged my mother’s hand, though,

to return to the elephant sanctuary,


she tugged back—it was time to leave.

In the car on the ride home

I played my Gameboy, worked the windows

up and down, over and over.


What I’d seen at the zoo

soon faded from immediate memory.

Life was a toy that I turned on and off

at my leisure.


On my worst days now I think

of a town that has outlasted

the buildings that exist

within it, that comprise



its entire being,

yet a town, impossible, that continues

to live, even prosper.

Humanity, some kind of animal, 


all the everythings        

there are to get. 

On the best I work hard

at forgetting to remember.     


Call it an act of faith,

a childish ignorance,

every day the first day

of my life.




Broadcasting live, the elephant cam

at the San Diego Zoo is grainy,

pixelated and prone to blackouts,  

a challenging viewer experience to say the least. 


No algorithm can fix it.

Still, this morning, for hours,

I watched and watched.

I couldn’t stop. 

Posted 07/13/20
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