Noah’s Lost Elephants

by Gregory Tague

Raven or Dove?

Then, at the peak of the flood, just when the rains have stopped, first the jetty raven is shuttled out, flitting and fretting in hungry solitude, anxiously determined yet selfishly lost, never to return. Noah’s oaken-crinkled hand commissions next a dove to discover Eden. Blanched by fatigue, the white bird hearkens home in empathy to Noah bearing an olive leaf. In flight again the bird disappears into the bruised-blue heavens mottled by thistle-thick clouds, an unctuously delicious signal for Noah to venture out and multiply, to replenish honeyed earth with mustard seeds and harvests, unleavened bread and salt, multifarious fish and flesh. Then we joined in kin with animals to share amber-yellow and blue-green eco-tones of earth’s grassy edges, marsh-succulent swamp-shoals and teem-stocked sun-bright pebbled river beds.

Who prevails?

Now, elemental ancestors, kings and queens of a planetary pre-historic past, three elephants bellow and snort, sound roaring cries of lamentation in protest against captive confinement. Grand and glorious animal hulks among trees moss-maple and mushroom-birch, reduced to a weekend exhibition. Rough-gray skin of beasts and silver-flecked granite of stone, primordial flesh rubbing against rocky sediment—a forged unity twists this plastic-fabricated zoo-copse and its marquis-exotic spectacle—recalling the electrocution of Topsy the elephant, Coney Island 1903.

Elephants examined and explained, and so the justified flicking whip of the man-handler echoes. Shame of three tilting elephants in an ignoble pit is ignored by the mass of staring strangers clicking cameras. Tranquilized elephants plod between rusted-equipment. Gracefully rounded creatures stand and rotate slowly like buds in sunshine, in one last heave of hope, then bend down forward, gently. Startled to perform, the handler prompts the grey giants to roll over on their backs, but such is their noblesse oblige. Sympathetically, with the pilot-sight of a primitive inner eye, see god-like elephants trudge across African plains and slink through Indian jungles. The elephants, content to muse in the music of their sweet-smelling forgotten continent, are roused by our Faustian sounds, sandpaper against stone, evolved to grind down.

Ark’s promise of plenty forsaken—by whom? Whose earth—what’s surrendered?

Gregory Tague is Associate Professor of English, St. Francis College (NY). Reader-response ethical criticism and the history of ideas in Character and Consciousness (2005); Ethos and Behavior (2008). Editor and contributor: Origins of English Literary Modernism, 1870-1914 (2009). Numerous scholarly studies and articles in books and journals. Literary creative non-fiction essays, one nominated for a Pushcart Prize, published (or forthcoming) on topics such as international adoption, memory and pain, personal responsibility, artistic inspiration, medical care, and judicial prejudice in Mars Hill Review; Lituanus; The Midwest Quarterly (2x); The Healing Muse; The Arabesques Review; Cezanne’s Carrot; Cell2Soul: Humane Health Care; Dark Sky Magazine; Blue Print Review; Subtle Tea.

Back to Issue Three: Spring 2009