Elephant Ink

You force your needle in my skin imbuing stories told.
Ink leaves behind dark lines of shape a pachyderm to share.
The humming sounds of shooting pain exude Ganesha’s birth.
From steel to flesh an elephant, reflecting Hindu mirth.

Please tell me of your circus tents, unjustified behind
the wonder in your children’s eyes—the bullhooks, chains, and lies.
Prevaricate the jewels you sell in lines that wait for rides.
Embellished cloth protects their eyes, your children’s, from their hides.

The subjugation of their kind, to kill for ivory tusks,
to entertain opposing thumbs, and keep our species dumb.
May circus chains and zoo refrains bring nothing but disgust.

Brenda Warren 2015

Prompt from the NaPo site:
And now, for our optional prompt! Today I challenge you to write a fourteener. Fourteeners can be have any number of lines, but each line should have fourteen syllables. Traditionally, each line consisted of seven iambic feet (i.e., an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, times seven), but non-iambic fourteeners also exist. The fourteener was popular in 16th and 17th century England, where it was particular common in ballads, but it also is the form in which “Casey at the Bat” is written. The form is versatile enough to encompass any subject matter, but as the example of “Casey at the Bat” shows us, it is particularly useful in narrative poetry, due to the long line and the step-like sense of progression created by the iambs.

FYI: I tried to stick to the traditional parameter of seven iambic feet in this piece. Go me!



When I try to start a poem with,
“If I could only be an elephant,”
it ends with too much sadness
to begin.

Fierce love disrupted
through culling’s lethal game.

Circus crowds
with ooooos and ahhhhhs,
pay for elephant chains.

It’s over before it begins.

Humanity holds the trump card
yearning for cash and coins.

They win.

Ladies and Gentlemen!
In the center ring!

Brenda Warren 2014

for Shirley

Shirley’s Checkered Past

Elephant calf, culled from herd,
you travel to North America.
Endure the loss of country.
Endure chains and circus crowds.
Survive a shipboard fire, and
the jarring wounds of bullhooks,
keeping you in line,
keeping you dancing beneath
wounds the circus disguises for crowds
with pounds of velvet and rhinestones
that glitter under Big Top lights,
encouraging human hoopla
perpetuating elephant subjugation
and the culling of your herds.

After 30 years, a bull elephant
stampedes into you, Shirley,
breaking a leg that never sets right.
Earning you a home
in the Louisiana Purchase Zoo.

A lone elephant
and one man,
your keeper, your friend.

For 22 years Solomon James lays his hands on you, and
you gently push your weight against them.
For 22 years Solomon brings you
tree branch toys and company.
Shirley girl
For 22 years Solomon aims a hose
at your fire scarred head.
For 22 years Solomon
shackles and unshackles you
to prepare you for public pleasure.

The Journey to Shirley’s Future

After 22 years, the zoo retires Shirley
to The Elelphant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee
where other elephants roam free.

Solomon shackles a reluctant Shirley and
lures her onto a truck with carrot and talk.
He does not hurry her.
Ratcheting and cranking chains help pull her close
until Shirley slowly lifts her bent back leg up,
and onto the truck that leads to her forever.

Yesterday never forgotten,
they drive through the cool of night.
Listening to highway sounds and dancing air,
Solomon imagines Shirley’s mind running
through the years, spreading out like sand
or the feel of her leathery gray skin
beneath the palms of his hands.

Shirley Comes Home

After 14 hours on the road,
Shirley steps off her last truck home.
Solomon unshackles Shirley.
She stands behind bars and in walks Tara,
the first elephant Shirley’s seen in twenty some years.
Tentatively touching trunks meet and greet
while Solomon smiles with glistening eyes.

As he bathes Shirley one last time
Solomon’s soft voice soothes,
“They’ll be no more chains. You’re free now.
I don’t know who was the first to put a chain on you Shirley,
but I’m glad to know, that I am the last to take it off.
You’re free at last.”

Tears flow from Shirley’s eyes
as Solomon’s strong brown fingers
spread love stirred deep into lines
that stretch years of stories across her skin.

Shirley and Jenny

At nightfall, a symphony of trumpets, grunts and groans
sing from the barn.

A year before Shirley’s injury,
elephant calf Jenny,
freshly culled and captive,
joined Shirley’s circus.
Jenny met Shirley fresh from the boat.
Remembered bonds bend steel bars that separate
until humans intervene to open elephant to
flesh against flesh.
Over 100,000 trunk muscles quiver to explore
the passage of twenty some years.

Later, when life becomes home,
Shirley and Jenny walk side by side
trunks placed upon each other’s hearts.

Birds fly above the pond where Jenny sprays
her beloved friend, her North American mother,
basking sweetly in the shady shallows
of a sanctuary pond.

Brenda Warren 2013

Process Notes:
The Elephant Sanctuary has long held a deep place in my heart. When a poem would not come easily this week, I decided to write a poem chronicling Shirley’s story. Here is a link to a video of the story: The Urban Elephant: Shirley’s Story. This 12 minute video makes me cry, even after more than two dozen views. If you are a teacher, share it with students. Spread the story. Compassion grows when children see Solomon say good bye, and then Jenny comes along. Double whammy! Not only that, your students will LOVE to see you cry.

Visit The Sunday Whirl.

seven saved

Seven elephant calves
huddled in the wooden kraal.
Tears streamed gray trails through golden
dust collected on their leathery skin
as trunks snaked across trembling faces and bodies
seeking solace and familiarity.

On that inconceivable day,
two-leggeds pulled and prodded the seven
over long dusty roads, away
from the Zambezi river valley, away
from a vanishing parade of female Elders.

Who would teach them to be elephants?

A new moon darkened the savannah,
while fourteen ears heard murmurs of
a wind-garbled tale the Matriarch
trumpeted as she sketched reprisal
to a fervent battalion of Cows.

Arriving as barely discernible silhouettes,
the Ladies encircled the hut
where every man slept off
a late night’s whiskey.

At the Matriarch’s signal,
the Madams stomped until carcasses
merged soil and thatching grass
into one flattened mass.

Dulari the Eldest freed the seven calves
pulling boards from the walls of the kraal.

Trunk to tail to trunk to tail they fled
deep into Africa’s shadows

where sojourned in a sacred circle, Crons’ trunks
fingered every inch of the seven rescued ones
with coos and moans and rumbles
that rendered them home.


The prompt at We Write Poems this week ask that we revise an old piece.  In November of 2009 I wrote a poem a day from a different word each day. The word for this piece was kraal.  It is a corral for livestock in Africa.

My intention in revision was to give the reader a better for feel for the elephants.  The original piece is here:  kraal