Sanctuary. Forest cleared, a bai
around the mineral-rich waters
of need. As many as a hundred feed,

the mothers and their clinging young, the bulls
at the forest’s edge. Oh great golden god,
you know only the placid peace of twilight,

how the forest, deep, dense with darkness, hides
your dwindling kin. From the misted trees
the ghostly herd emerges, a mirage

among the scattered pools. Great golden god,
you have no word for kill, but death you know
too well, tusks no protection from its loud

report across the field, your children felled,
pierced by sudden nothingness, what was peace
mirage. Into darkness the trampling few

are vanishing, deep the rumbled warning
echoing through the trees, the panicked pain
and fear. Great golden god, oh helpless one,

you wander a forest where silence grows,
the bai a space that gathers emptiness,
the place your heart, alone, will die oh great

and golden god, oh great and golden god.

 

This poem was inspired by an article in the May 11 issue of the New Yorker, “Elephant Watch,” about the poaching of forest elephants in the Central African Republic. The title of the poem is based on the Wednesday, June 2 poetry prompt from the Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides blog: “Use the color of your shirt as the first word of the title, and for the second word, choose the first animal you think of.” I had just read “Elephant Watch” that morning, and I was wearing a goldenrod Santa Cruz Warriors D-League T-shirt. Elephants are extremely visible targets for poaching, especially as the price of ivory continues to climb on the black markets as elephant populations plummet. I thought the goldenrod shirt, too, was extremely visible, and imagined the elephant god in gold.