The Dancing Elephant

   Although she was moribund,
   she started to sway her trunk and move
   from side to side in a rotund dance.
   She swayed like an iron bell
   and I, too, started to sway, rolling
   my weight as though I rode
   the swell of her back, the swell
   of her gait. Who could say
   what led her to dance, to lean
   in to the light, to move the grief
   her limbs held and drum a rhythm
   of passing age, of ending breath.
   Who could say why her dance
   kept on, an hour or more, or why
   I keeled, canted, not wanting
   her dance to stop though the cold
   climbed up my legs and rain
   streamed down in grey sheets.
   She barely blinked or moved her eyes.
   She focussed on the shuffling
   of her feet. Her dark weight,
   her slow carriage comforted me:
   it was lunar, a manoeuvre
   against gravity. I didn’t know
   if she saw me conducting myself
   in her sway, her partner
   in this geo-strategy of goodbye.
   Then she stopped, turned in a circle,
   staggered, shivered as though
   she felt some command sharp
   as a bull hook. She began to shake
   like a theatre marquee nearing
   collapse. My old charge, who’d
   learned to solve the impossible
   equation of her weight and balance
   one-legged on a pedestal, to lift
   herself on her hind legs as if
   she were made entirely of cloud.
   Was this why she danced, to show
   me her incalculable pain, what
   her muscles and bones had endured
   years in those chains, to show
   how she danced for death
   as she had danced for me? Yes—
   I knew it—my cruelty. I’d goaded,
   starved and whipped her until
   broken, she became my spry,
   spry dancer, my ballerina turning
   and lifting her feet in the ring . . .
   She flapped her ears, shuddered
   once more . . . There was barely
   any sound as she fell—just a small
   insinuation of applause from the rain.

 

 

 

   Incense
 
   The merchant told me this scent will drive away
   trouble and despair and purify the base instincts.
   He drew it slowly under his nose, said it was made
   from Himalayan poppy, that its oil was difficult
   to extract, impossible to imitate, but when lit
   would provide me with all I needed to know about
   grace and ardent desire. He took another stick—
   told me its scent was made from buds that blossomed
   after dark, under the influence of a spotted nightjar
   calling only during a new moon. Mixed with musk
   it will stimulate kindness, infused with linalool
   or aloe it will induce prophetic dreaming, if added
   to saffron and the pulverized wood of a Persian oud,
   it will link the mind to insight and maintain serenity
   in the home. I asked if he had a scent that could help
   me interpret the throbbing sensations in my right
   eye and left leg and increase patience and calm.
   He asked my zodiac sign then suggested a blend
   of jasmine, pine, cinnamon and myrrh which must
   be burned at dawn while I wear a ring of fire opal
   and carry a handkerchief with an embroidered phoenix.
   Later, as smoke rose from my rooms, I detected only
   ground fungus, the dung of goats, the singed wool of a dead ram.
   I cursed the seller who’d duped me, but he was right
   about one thing, just as he said, the smell lasted long.

 

 

 

   The Light on Marrin Bay

   See this light’s unending glisk of spangly
               wicks, micro-sparkles and flickery tinsel twists.
   And look at the white swans drifting in—
               they’re light and airy as meringue.

   A few ducks dive in shadow under the overhang—
               they bob up where the water
   is more magnesium flare, more twinkling gloss
               and mineral quiver. A boat

   putts by: wash rolls along the shell-and-pebble
               shore—a tintinnabula, while further off
   yachts take the swell and masts conduct a sound
               like plinking xylophones.     

   Now a breeze puckers the zinc glint near the pier,
               jellyfish drift and turn to globes
   or frilly lampshades; fish are small confections
               wrapped in foil. Soon the sun

   will put more silver on its dazzling empire, more
               stacks of coin and crystal jewel
   and sparking leaf—it’s not yet six a.m., the day
               barely begun, but the water is spread

   with largesse, all the tips of light that phosphoresce,
               all the ferries and their morning stars,
   the rowers’ oars turning, branded, lifting up
               in morning’s flare. Each ruffle

   or surface shirr a strobe of bewitchment. The ducks
               dip down again—then rise flicking
   decimals of light from their feathers. When they plunge
               again—there are little zodiacs of bubbles.




 

[Judith Beveridge lives in Sydney, Australia, and is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently Sun Music: New and Selected Poems which won the 2019 Prime Minister’s poetry prize. She has also been awarded the Christopher Brennan and Philip Hodgins Memorial Medals for excellence in Literature. She was poetry editor for Meanjin from 2005-2016. Her work has been studied in schools and universities and has been translated into several languages.]

Copyright © 2020 by Judith Beveridge, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.