Sheldon decided he was an elephant.
Everywhere he went, he wore a gray t-shirt,
gray sweat pants, and gray basketball shoes.
He also carried a brass trumpet that he’d
Sometimes he used that trumpet as a
Then he’d use it as the other tusk.
Sometimes he played that brass trumpet and
pretended it was an elephant trumpet.
Every other day, Sheldon charged around the
reservation like he was a bull elephant in musth.
Musth being a state of epic sexual
Sheldon would stand in the middle of
intersections and charge at cars.
Once, Sheldon head-butted a Toyota Camry so
hard that he knocked himself out.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, was driving that
Agnes did not believe she was an elephant
nor did she believe she was the mother of an elephant.
And Agnes didn’t believe that Sheldon fully
believed he was an elephant until he knocked himself out on the
hood of the Camry.
In Africa, poachers kill elephants, saw off
the tusks, and leave the rest of the elephant to rot.
Nobody covets Sheldon’s trumpet, not as a
trumpet or tusk.
On those days when Sheldon was not a bull
elephant, he was a cow elephant.
A cow elephant mourning the death of her
In Africa, elephants will return again and
again to the dead body of a beloved elephant.
Then, for years afterward, the mournful
elephants will return to the dead elephant’s cairn of bones.
They will lift and caress the dead
By touch, they remember.
Sheldon’s twin brother died in the first
Sheldon and Pete’s parents were not the
kind to give their twins names that rhymed.
In Iraq, an Improvised Explosive Device had
pulverized Pete’s legs, genitals, ribcage, and spine.
Sheldon could not serve in the military
because he was blind in his right eye.
In 1980, when they were eight, and sword
fighting with tree branches, Pete had accidentally stabbed Sheldon
in the eye.
When they were children, Sheldon and Pete
often played war.
They never once pretended to be killed by
an Improvised Explosive Device.
Only now, in this new era, do children
pretend to be killed by Improvised Explosive Devices.
Pete was buried in a white coffin.
It wasn’t made of ivory.
At the gravesite, Sheldon scooped up a
handful of dirt.
He was supposed to toss the dirt onto his
brother’s coffin, as the other mourners had done.
But Sheldon kept the dirt in his
He made a fist around the dirt and would
not let it go.
He believed that his brother’s soul was
contained within that dirt.
And if he let go of that dirt, his
brother’s soul would be lost forever.
You cannot carry a handful of dirt for any
significant amount of time.
And dirt, being clever, will escape through
So Sheldon taped his right hand shut.
For months, he did everything with his left
Then, one night, his right hand began to
Sheldon didn’t want to take off the
He didn’t want to lose the dirt.
But the itch and burn were too
Sheldon scissored the tape off his right
His fingers were locked in place from
So he used the fingers of his left hand to
pry open the fingers of his right hand.
Except for a few grains that had embedded
themselves into his palm.
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.
Until he became an elephant, Sheldon
referred to his left hand as “my hand” and to his right hand as “my
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, was
His wheelchair was alive with eagle
feathers and beads and otter pelts.
In Vietnam, in 1971, Arnold’s lower spine
was shattered by a sniper’s bullet.
Above the wound, he was a fancy
Below the wound, he was not.
His wife became pregnant with Sheldon and
Pete while Arnold was away at war.
Biologically speaking, the twins were not
Biologically speaking, Arnold was a
different Arnold than he’d been before.
But, without ever acknowledging the truth,
Arnold raised the boys as if they shared his biology.
Above the wound, Arnold is a good
Below the wound, he is also a good
Sometimes, out of love for Sheldon and
Sheldon’s grief, Arnold pretended that his wheelchair was an
And that he was a clown riding the
A circus can be an elephant, another
elephant, and a clown.
The question should be, “How many circuses
can fit inside one clown?”
There is no such thing as the Elephant
That mythical place where all elephants go
That place doesn’t exist.
But the ghosts of elephants do wear clown
And they all gather in the same
Inside Sheldon’s ribcage.
Sheldon’s heart is a clown car filled with
When elephants mourn, they will walk
circles around a dead elephant’s body.
Sheldon’s mother, Agnes, wonders if Jesus
has something to do with her son’s elephant delusions.
Maybe God is an elephant.
Sheldon’s father, Arnold, believes that God
is a blue whale.
Some scientists believe that elephants used
to be whales.
Sheldon, in his elephant brain, believes
that God is an Improvised Explosive Device.
Pete, the dead twin, was not made of
If Jesus can come back to life then why
can’t all of us come back to life?
Aristotle believed that elephants surpassed
all other animals in wit and mind.
Nobody ever said that Jesus was
Then, one day, Sheldon remembered he was
not an elephant.
Instead he decided that Pete was an
elephant who had gone to war.
An elephant who died saving his clan and
An elephant killed by poachers.
Sheldon decided that God was a
Sheldon decided his prayers would become
Fuck you, God, fuck you.
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.
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