Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Elephant Bones

They come, trunks swinging,
the matriarch, her daughters,
and their young,
swaying along the grassy veld,
ponderous steps shaking the earth.

She startles, the Old Grandmother,
when she comes to bones alongside the path:
elephant bones, the bones of her kin.

Distress, low rumbles among the herd,
swaying from side to side.
Delicately, then, their trunks
whiff along the line of bones,
sensing, detecting, remembering.
They understand a trauma happened here.
They smell Man on the bones, on the land.

With love, the Old One tenderly lifts a bone,
carries it a little way,
then brings it back and gently sets it down.
She is saying she wants the bones 
to rise and follow her,
to be back in the body as once they were,
and walking free under 
the arching African sky.

As she sets it back down, she acknowledges
that, sadly, this cannot be.
She gathers her herd, calls to the little ones,
and, with a low rumble,
slowly, reverent with remembering,
full of sad thoughts,
they all move on.

I wrote this poem before finding the film, as I knew this from reading about elephants, that they  recognize the bones of their kin, when they pass sites where elephants have been poached and killed. They stop and spend hours with the bones, caressing and smelling them with their trunks. Sometimes one will lift a bone, carry it for a few moments, then return it to where it had fallen. As if in recognition of a clan member, and their wish that this had not befallen her. Elephants remember long, and feel much. 

The only thing I disagree with in the video is the statement that only humans and elephants honour their dead in this way. I know other animals do as well. I have seen it in wolves, dogs, horses and cats, and have read about it in lions. Knowing all animal families care about each other, I am certain all species feel grief at the passing of their kin. 


  1. A wonderful tribute to elephants. Love this!

  2. What a touching poem. I didn't know elephants mourned their dead. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  3. How very beautiful.

    I knew. I saw a fictional black and white movie once that included that in the story line.

    I also know many animals mourn their losses. I have seen it too many times.

  4. This brings me to tears and I feel sad about the present human animal. Too often people don't recognize that animals grieve their dead. What have we become that we are determined to inflict agony of leaving beings.

  5. "They smell Man on the bones, on the land." the line comes so sharply and with much heartache...

  6. I'm always been intrigued by how elephants react to bones. I love that your poem takes me into the mind of one, to find the sadness (and the hope) that lives there.

    1. ...perhaps "hope" is not the right word. "Resignation". Yes, resignation works better.

  7. I have read that their memories are long such as knowing where to look for water ~ But to honor the dead this way is a testament to their wisdom ~ Thanks Sherry ~

  8. In many ways, the hopouring of the dead, by various species, is probably, the major thing that seperates mammals from the other species that inhabit this world, we call home. Maybe, one day, we, humans, will learn and understand that we don't have a monopoly over mourning and honouring those, who have gone, before us. One can hope.


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