Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
52

A Poem By Sherman Alexie



Pachyderm

1.
Sheldon decided he was an elephant.
2.
Everywhere he went, he wore a gray t-shirt, gray sweat pants, and gray basketball shoes.
3.
He also carried a brass trumpet that he’d painted white.
4.
Sometimes he used that trumpet as a tusk.
5.
Then he’d use it as the other tusk.
6.
Sometimes he played that brass trumpet and pretended it was an elephant trumpet.
7.
Every other day, Sheldon charged around the reservation like he was a bull elephant in musth.
8.
Musth being a state of epic sexual arousal.
9.
Sheldon would stand in the middle of intersections and charge at cars.
10.
Once, Sheldon head-butted a Toyota Camry so hard that he knocked himself out.
11.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, was driving that Camry.

12.
Agnes did not believe she was an elephant nor did she believe she was the mother of an elephant.
13.
And Agnes didn’t believe that Sheldon fully believed he was an elephant until he knocked himself out on the hood of the Camry.
14.
In Africa, poachers kill elephants, saw off the tusks, and leave the rest of the elephant to rot.
15.
Ivory is coveted.
16.
Nobody covets Sheldon’s trumpet, not as a trumpet or tusk.
17.
On those days when Sheldon was not a bull elephant, he was a cow elephant.
18.
A cow elephant mourning the death of her baby.
19.
In Africa, elephants will return again and again to the dead body of a beloved elephant.
20.
Then, for years afterward, the mournful elephants will return to the dead elephant’s cairn of bones.
21.
They will lift and caress the dead elephant’s ribs.
22.
By touch, they remember.
23.
Sheldon’s twin brother died in the first Iraq War.
24.
1991.
25.
His name was Pete.
26.
Sheldon and Pete’s parents were not the kind to give their twins names that rhymed.
27.
In Iraq, an Improvised Explosive Device had pulverized Pete’s legs, genitals, ribcage, and spine.
28.
Sheldon could not serve in the military because he was blind in his right eye.
29.
In 1980, when they were eight, and sword fighting with tree branches, Pete had accidentally stabbed Sheldon in the eye.
30.
When they were children, Sheldon and Pete often played war.
31.
They never once pretended to be killed by an Improvised Explosive Device.
32.
Only now, in this new era, do children pretend to be killed by Improvised Explosive Devices.
33.
Pete was buried in a white coffin.
34.
It wasn’t made of ivory.
35.
At the gravesite, Sheldon scooped up a handful of dirt.
36.
He was supposed to toss the dirt onto his brother’s coffin, as the other mourners had done.
37.
But Sheldon kept the dirt in his hand.
38.
He made a fist around the dirt and would not let it go.
39.
He believed that his brother’s soul was contained within that dirt.
40.
And if he let go of that dirt, his brother’s soul would be lost forever.
41.
You cannot carry a handful of dirt for any significant amount of time.
42.
And dirt, being clever, will escape through your fingers.
43.
So Sheldon taped his right hand shut.
44.
For months, he did everything with his left hand.
45.
Then, one night, his right hand began to itch.
46.
It burned.
47.
Sheldon didn’t want to take off the tape.
48.
He didn’t want to lose the dirt.
49.
His brother’s soul.
50.
But the itch and burn were too powerful.
51.
Sheldon scissored the tape off his right hand.
52.
His fingers were locked in place from disuse.
53.
So he used the fingers of his left hand to pry open the fingers of his right hand.
54.
The dirt was gone.
55.
Except for a few grains that had embedded themselves into his palm.
56.
Using those grains of dirt, Sheldon wanted to build a time machine that would take him and his brother back into the egg cell they once shared.
57.
Until he became an elephant, Sheldon referred to his left hand as "my hand” and to his right hand as “my brother’s hand."
58.
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, was paraplegic.
59.
His wheelchair was alive with eagle feathers and beads and otter pelts.
60.
In Vietnam, in 1971, Arnold’s lower spine was shattered by a sniper’s bullet.
61.
Above the wound, he was a fancy dancer.
62.
Below the wound, he was not.
63.
His wife became pregnant with Sheldon and Pete while Arnold was away at war.
64.
Biologically speaking, the twins were not Arnold’s.
65.
Biologically speaking, Arnold was a different Arnold than he’d been before.
66.
But, without ever acknowledging the truth, Arnold raised the boys as if they shared his biology.
67.
Above the wound, Arnold is a good man.
68.
Below the wound, he is also a good man.
69.
Sometimes, out of love for Sheldon and Sheldon’s grief, Arnold pretended that his wheelchair was an elephant.
70.
And that he was a clown riding the elephant.
71.
A circus can be an elephant, another elephant, and a clown.
72.
The question should be, "How many circuses can fit inside one clown?"
73.
There is no such thing as the Elephant Graveyard.
74.
That mythical place where all elephants go to die.
75.
That place doesn’t exist.
76.
But the ghosts of elephants do wear clown makeup.
77.
And they all gather in the same place.
78.
Inside Sheldon’s ribcage.
79.
Sheldon’s heart is a clown car filled with circus elephants.
80.
When elephants mourn, they will walk circles around a dead elephant’s body.
81.
Elephants weep.
82.
Jesus wept.
83.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, wonders if Jesus has something to do with her son’s elephant delusions.
84.
Maybe God is an elephant.
85.
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, believes that God is a blue whale.
86.
Some scientists believe that elephants used to be whales.
87.
Sheldon, in his elephant brain, believes that God is an Improvised Explosive Device.
88.
Pete, the dead twin, was not made of ivory.
89.
But he is coveted.
90.
If Jesus can come back to life then why can’t all of us come back to life?
91.
Aristotle believed that elephants surpassed all other animals in wit and mind.
92.
Nobody ever said that Jesus was funny.
93.
Then, one day, Sheldon remembered he was not an elephant.
94.
Instead he decided that Pete was an elephant who had gone to war.
95.
An elephant who died saving his clan and herd.
96.
An elephant killed by poachers.
97.
Sheldon decided that God was a poacher.
98.
Sheldon decided his prayers would become threats.
99.
Fuck you, God, fuck you.
100.
Sheldon wept.
101.
Then he picked up his trumpet and blew an endless, harrowing note.





Sherman Alexie’s collection, Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, will be published by Grove Press this October. He lives with his family in Seattle.

Would you like more poems? We hide them all here for you. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.

52 Comments / Post A Comment

Moff (#28)

Oh my God. Thank you.

kimyung (#240,711)

@kimyung good

roboloki (#1,724)

wow.

ipomoea (#207,034)

If you haven't read Alexie's poetry, get the hell on it. It's amazing.

melis (#1,854)

!!!

Mr. B (#10,093)

Aside from loving this, I just want to mark the moment that a Poetry Section post is currently in the "most viewed" list.

Fabuloso.

Kate Croy (#973)

I don't have the words to do this justice. Thank you.

Oh don't mind me, just openly weeping at my desk in full view of everyone.

kaylask (#233,020)

Just amazing. Breath-taking, really.

growler (#476)

That. that. Um.

Wow.

s. (#775)

Just devastatingly good. (And the perfect sublime counterpoint to Fruhlinger's wonderfully ridiculous post about dead emperors this morning.)

offthewawl (#8,258)

"Your Google Alert on Sherman Alexie has been created."

scaryca (#225,013)

This broke my heart.

Wonderful. Thank you.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Hanging Loose 4 Life

sugarpea (#1,799)

Sherman Alexie + The Awl = Good Day.

Jim Casey@twitter (#233,040)

I love that this posting probably just introduced a whole bunch of people to Sherman Alexie's poetry. Excellent.

growler (#476)

Jesus, @ipomoea, you did not warn me how great his poems are! I have spammed my Facefuck friends with at least a half dozen of them I found online tonight.

@elle9thornton (#233,044)

Lost rivers of pain so deep, I didn't know words could ever find it.

Bittersweet (#765)

… (loved this, thank you)

hockeymom (#143)

"….an endless, harrowing note."

Yes.

Bridget Callahan (#5,234)

Crap. I hate reading something this good before I try to write myself. It's a TOTAL COCKBLOCK. But also I may be in love with this person.

A few years ago I took the book "The Business of Fancydancing" by Sherman Alexie home from the library. I spent a night in a hotel reading it over and over again. I bought a bundle of journals the next day and started filling them up. I can actually point to that book as the one that inspired me to write. This poem hits me in that same place.

I can count on Mr. Alexie for the exercising my mind must do to keep up because as much as I try I can't get ahead….I never see it coming and I am always satisfied

mehsmom (#233,116)

Can never get too much of this man's work ever. He's absolutely brilliant.

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Ygor Reis@facebook (#241,998)

Beautiful poem, I will go to all my students and coworkers thank you

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Sunmaster (#242,620)

Beautiful poem, I will go to all my students and coworkers thank thru
Sunmaster

haedron (#242,763)

Nice poem! Did someone realize some metric? The verses are positioned like a butterfly wing. Take a look at the "shape" of the paragraphs.
It is like a group of butterflies, or in amazonian indian language, panapana

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