Poems of the Week

The Elephants’ Graveyard

by Ed Shacklee

The worm had turned. Poor pachyderms—the last to learn their plight,
they’d pawned their tusks to kooks and crooks who told them who to fight,
plus most had tumbled over, having tilted to the right.

Blinded by the spotlight in the centermost of rings
while doing tricks for peanuts as their owners pulled the strings,
they’d left the jungle long ago where they had once been kings.

Yet, “How I miss the circus!” said the fattest one, who wept.
“Do you recall the hoops through which the limber leopards leapt,
and poop from painted ponies, here, before the grounds were swept?

“But tigers turned to pussy cats, and are no longer feared,
the lady is no lady now that she has lost her beard,
and wind creeps through our giant tent where once the rubes had cheered.

“The clown whose smile is painted on became his final joke,
the lion tamer found the tame were hungry when they woke,
and men who swallowed swords and flames are bloody stubs and smoke.

“The muscle man grew musclebound. The minute men are late:
the rubber man from India who swore that he’d go straight
is off to parts unknown if he can wriggle through the gate.

“Our acrobats have fallen flat, their leaps of faith gone sour.
The witless human cannonballs all hit the ivory tower,
and girls at whom the knives were thrown reward us with a glower.

“The fortune teller reads the cards we’d marked—her head is bowed.
The barkers give up barking at our dwindling, swindled crowd,
while spiders man the ticket booth and weave a mocking shroud;

“and so, although we used to crow while trumpeting our glory,
we’re off to seek the graveyard at the end of every story,
but not before I leave the donkeys this memento mori:

“Dethroned, debunked, I’ll pack my trunk—yet everything must pass,
and those who’ve yearned for unicorns might learn that you’re an ass,
the last to know your nose will grow among the upper class.”