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TOUCHING THE ELEFUNT
once upon a time and fairly frequently after that, there was an elefunt. not
a large elefunt, nor an imposing one; not the kind of elefunt people point
at and say - look at that! but an elefunt, nevertheless, though one which
could be said to defy expectation.
for the elefunt lived in the dark.
he spent his days in the dark and his nights in the dark, and he lived all
on his own, confined by the four walls of a room which was scarcely bigger
than he was.
in the general course of events, elefunts are supposed to be large, badly
ironed and fond of the company of their own kind. this elefunt was none of
these things: he was slightly built and blessed with a trim, well-fitting
pelt. solitary as he was, he did not dislike other elefunts, he simply had
never met any. his whole life had passed in the company of walls; he knew
walls very well, he had a passing acquaintance with a ceiling and in the
tactful way floors have, his own floor had never complained about being
trodden underfoot. but lacking other elefunts to compare himself with, this
elefunt had no way of knowing what manner of creature he was: for all he
knew, he could be a kind of furniture.
how did he survive? elefunts need to eat, they need to move, to
philosophise. he neither ate nor moved, but he thought a great deal; he told
himself stories and tried to guess the endings, he made lists and he dreamed
the tranquil, dim dreams of an elefunt which has never questioned the dark.
it would be wrong to call him contented, but there was no discontent in him,
only an enduring patience.
a room, filled with dark. an elefunt in it. time passing, matching its pace
to the elefunt's heartbeat, lengthening its strides as he slept. nothing,
until one day the room discovered it had a door. and after that, of course,
there were visitors.
no warning: light suddenly there, voices suddenly there - brightness, noise:
the elefunt broke through the ice crust of a dream and found himself
shocked, he stood as still as he could, being small, being unnoticeable.
sound which sped down the helter skelter of the elefunts neat ears and into
his brain and became - words, language! voices saying:
'where are we?'
'open the door wider, i can't see!'
but the door had closed and returned to whatever it had been before it
became a door, and now there was only the dark, the voices and the elefunt
standing small and still, drawing itself up together and trying not to
the elefunt felt himself touched. never in all his life had the room tried
to touch him. never had the walls possessed hands like these: fingers that
met his hide and probed further, tugged his sensitive ears, tapped on his
tusks. fingertips that crept across his belly and tickled.
a shudder ran over the elefunt's skin, wind rippling long grass. the hands
all drew back, the voices exclaimed their words - their language - in
'what is it?'
i'm alive, thought the elefunt.
'here, feel this - ' the elefunt felt his tail being pulled, by one, by
'it's a rat! a giant rat!'
'no, it's a snake!'
'a snake! yes, that's it, a snake.'
i'm a snake, thought the elefunt.
'it can't be a snake!' said another voice, 'feel this!'
'a cabbage leaf?'
'a banana leaf?'
what's a banana? thought the elefunt. what's a leaf? the hands moved down.
he felt his foot grasped, his toenails counted. he stood very still.
'yes, but what are these?'
'little stones? roots?'
feet, thought the elefunt. those are my feet. he didn't know how he knew.
pictures were coming into his mind. the dark was giving him pictures.
'i can't see.'
'where are we?'
we're here, thought the elefunt. i'm here. where are they?
tentatively he extended his trunk and felt around. there was a scream.
'it touched me!'
'be careful - it might bite!'
i won't, thought the elefunt. why should i?
the voices were clambering across each other, shoving, trying to make a
door. i didn't have a door before, thought the elefunt; why now? language
was beginning to mount up in him. pictures with sounds, with names, with
permission to go anywhere in his head. wherever they went he felt himself
become a little lighter.
'there must be a door!'
'there must be!'
yes, thought the elefunt. there is.
the door opened. light fell in as if it had been listening outside. the
voices turned and made for the door and the light stood to one side.
'going already?' said the elefunt.
there! he had used language! momentarily the voices in the doorway halted
and looked at him.
'what is it?'
i'm an elefunt, said the elefunt. i'm an elefunt. i won't bite. can i come
with you? i won't get in the way.
the door smiled and opened wider and the elefunt went through.
there were 3 mysteries braided together
there were strands
others which always knitted up
how even water
bore this trifold braid
of the scrabble of hawk in the egg
of never being quite able
to see out or see over
the slide sideways
into neighbouring myths
of his uncle the aviator
of his foster-brother the raven
Orfeus drank some water
then he sang
of the labia of the labyrinth
of the suck of the mothertide
of the falling everywhere
he sang of Yuridissey
coming to him across town
her long hands folding him up
her face upswept
her gladness like a kite
her tongue a hook
he sang how she would always arrive
to awaken more of their story
falling into her again and again
of the bellowing creature at his core
whose lusts were single
whose longing was uncurtailed
whereas he had to reassemble himself constantly
he sang how afterwards
Yuridissey was still composed
whilst he was all over the place, lost
she was molten yet absent
a bronze flood
fanning out in tributaries
whilst he was flinging himself this way and that
she was all mirrors
whilst he was roaring in bewilderment
catching up with her disappearances
his fur on end, his heart gasping
Orfeus sang and found
his voice had become thorns
and sang face-down over her lake
the silence asked him to descend
he sang water and spoke weeds
he raised his drenched muzzle and stared
he had discovered a new chord -
something bundled in between
music which naturally unravelled
made of notes which always knitted up
Someone has left a lily, tilted
in an antique flask - someone has painted
annunciation before: the slide of planes
which descry the room, the collision of light
as if an angel lingered, beckoning -
having burned out the walls with its eyes.
The whole place now
stands open to brimming skies.
the painter took his brushes. The lily
he'd found and cut with such reverence
he placed at the heart of the work -
then left the painting to compose itself. These walls
will never hold space the same way again,
because they have summoned an angel
to dispense the rain.
and the angel becomes more distinct.
A convulsion of light is its hand
burning the cup's rim. All day the rain
has brimmed up there,
writhing and boiling, winding its dynamo.
the cup is taken: from an angel
with eyes through which rain pierces.
But had the painting shown any room
(since all rooms intersect) each would have held
an angel with its own annunciation. And wet tiles
with footprints leading away, and the soft drum
of rain on leaves.
though in some rooms a lily, newly unclosed,
might lean - in others
the dark, inward-reaching eyes
would endlessly hold discourse with a rose.
with the unrolling of the sky and the light's wane
the thunder at last
brings down its harvest of tall rain.
holding your death's
small hand, black-nailed
inside your much larger hand
leading it here, you
lay down with it
under the black
and somewhere behind the dance
carried your death a long time
and each day
more of it grew large and less of you
until the coat you'd shaped so well, fell in
no one to hold the sleeves out straight
it buckled and sank
and lay in its last strong pose
mouth empty, eyes turned inside out
death stood carefully up
stood looking down at you
stood off a little way
joggling bones would now go coatless
its name, even, would be spoken unclothed
death - as stark as that
trying it out, death walked off
walked away, naked, left you there
in the hollow behind the words
the black, and somewhere
behind the dance
© Catherine Milne
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