Sunday, January 16, 2011

Your Sunday Poem

In 1903, on Coney Island, crowds gathered at Luna Park to witness the electrocution of Topsy, a circus elephant that had finally had enough and killed her trainer who had tormented her with lit cigarettes, among other abuses. Electrocuting an elephant was a novel experiment and the killing turned into a festive event and was filmed. If you have seen the historical footage you will never forget it. It is a perfect metaphor for man’s failed understanding of and relationship with the world.

This poem is by W.S. Merwin

The Chain To Her Leg

If we forget Topsy
Topsy remembers
when we forget her mother
gunned down in the forest
and forget who killed her
and to whom they sold
the tusks the feet the good parts
and how they died and where
and what became of their children
and what happened to the forest
Topsy remembers

when we forget how
the wires were fastened on her
for the experiment
the first time
and how she smoldered and
shuddered there
with them all watching
but did not die
when we forget
the lit cigarette
the last laugh gave her
lit end first
as though it were a peanut
the joke for which she
killed him
we will not see home again

when we forget the circus
the tickets to see her die
in the name of progress
and Edison and the electric chair
the mushroom cloud will go up
over the desert
where the West was won
the Enola Gay will take off
after the chaplain’s blessing
the smoke from the Black Mesa’s
power plants will be
visible from the moon
the forests will be gone
the extinctions will accelerate
the polar bears will float
farther and farther away
and off the edge of the world
that Topsy remembers.


Alon Perlman said...

A great all encompassing poem and lead in, but there is a critical and missing subtext to this drama; Thomas Alva Edison may had lost his most prolific employee by then. Nicola Tesla (Pigeon lover) had invented alternating current, while Edison was adamant that his direct current methodology would grid the USA. Looking for an opportunity to scare people off from the Alternating Current alternative, Thomas, the ever shrewd businessman, sought to use this demonstration to win. He won the skirmish, lost the battle, but eventually won the war. Years later, techno-rubes, Smart meters and loose zebras proliferated under the AC pylons’ of the sleepiest County on the Central Coast. I smell what ? Scorched Elephant? Fresh-killed Zebra? Poem Make-Over!!

Alon Perlman said...

Looks like characters is limited to 1000 (Digital, not litrary limitation) anyhoo here's the rest.
Not for the feint hearted
Good book on the eccentricity of genius came out about 2004.

Spectator said...

Ann: I would really like to know why you picked this non poem. Sounds to me like ramblings from someone who has lost their mind and cannot find it.

However: Just another day in America.

Alon: Good research! Have you heard anything lately about the fat DC cable that goes up the San Joaquin Valley underground?

Alon Perlman said...

Hi Spectator. Not actual research- I happen to have a friend who is a Tesla buff. This is a very readable book I read a few years ago.-
I do remember vaguely something about newer DC transmission, but not something I knew about in California.

Churadogs said...

Spectator sez:"Ann: I would really like to know why you picked this non poem. Sounds to me like ramblings from someone who has lost their mind and cannot find it."

This tells me you know nothing of S.W. Merwin and know nothing of poetry.

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