KR OnlinePoetry

The Only Harmless Great Thing

Say the elephant in the dream was your
obsession with the perfection of nature.

Say you remembered other deaths—that night of lightning
in the ship off the coast of Borneo, or the disembowelment

in the public square when they caught you craving another man’s
soup. By 1862, the number of boats setting out from Khartoum

equaled cups of salt you dispersed for the year
nightly onto the sheet. A corpse by any other name

could be a big anthill smelling like bread in the oven.
Sure, your friends were concerned, rightly, with ectoparasites

dispersed in hyena scat. You focused on mating habits
of the fire ants of Namibia as an astrological chart

of how, in ten years, you might count
breaths into breathing. A zodiac of milk.

In other words, I truly love my dog.
In other words, hound ears are my secret silk self

scuffling the ground. In other words, you read the love
poems of Robert Desnos but recall John Donne’s

magnificence when he wrote of elephants
as the onely harmlesse great thing.

Who is the I and who the you? So much
back and froth, lack and forth. Why the confusion

when talking of the self? I love you
the way two words in a wood diverge

and we take both words at once. The greater
word, the lesser. Like holding the woman

yet falling into her during the same night
of touch, and you sense the fishing

nets drop a great depth down
into your chest. Because you chose. Because

I chose. Because words shift into who and what
they do. Because the elephant

baby tottering in eelgrass could be the way
we see ourselves but fail the fray

of our day, as we remember
possible perfection. If we could allow the love

with which we love
others to scour back, it would say,

I remember all my other deaths, and each one—
I tell you—was human, so humanly sorrowed.

George Kalamaras served as Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016) and is the author of fourteen books of poetry, seven of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series (2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.