Monday, December 15, 2014

Elephant Riding - Jan Kemp

Climbing up
the back of an elephant
you spring into
the toehold of its tail
held in place by the mahout
grab the ropes
strapped round its belly
& haul yourself up.
She rises
from buckled knees under you
moves like a ship
you’re high
under the hanging ashoka leaves
as you flow forward
her fly-bitten ears grey sails flap.
she flings the odd young-leaved branch
into her mouth
with her triumphant trunk.
You want to scratch
the top of her stubbled head
tell her it’s like riding a whale
they’re both your favourite creatures
you’d like to know their languages
couldn’t she speak
just a little of hers?
But the mahout down on the road
rubs thumb & fingers together
furiously you nod
yes pay, of course we’ll pay
thinking, if he doesn’t
accept our offer, let me down
I’ll be stuck up here forever
riding New Delhi streets
with the mahout’s boy
or it’ll suddenly have had enough
trumpet & fling me off or bolt.
I’d never have paid
till he let you down

you said, as we watched her
join the diesel-belching traffic circle
my ship of the jungle
dirty & grey
non-caparisoned, gentle, knowing, female
working animal.
In India, they say
a woman is beautiful
when she walks
like an elephant.

Sharpe, I. (Ed.). (2001, January 1). Best New Zealand Poems 2001. Retrieved from