Sunday, August 24, 2008

Giraffe, I saw thee

Once, accompanying the autistic children to Copenhagen Zoo, I saw thee.
One of them, a freckled boy, remarked: "The giraffe needs to get a life."
O giraffe, bow your head down gently, and listen: You should never have come!
Europe, the sorrowful maiden, has no place in her heart for such a tall animal.

When in 46 BC you first were brought here, the gawking Romans
Named you camelopard, and on the red sand of the Arena you discovered
How it feels to be casually torn to shreds by ravenous lions, in celebration
Of mighty Caesar's Egyptian triumphs: The power to kill something so rare, with such ease.

Not before the renaissance did you again set hoof on the shores of Europe,
Presented as a gift to Lorenzo de Medici by the Mamluk sultan; you were praised by poets
And immortalized in paintings by Vasari and Botticini, but in the heated stables
At the Medici villa you soon broke your neck when it came stuck in the crossbeams.

Three centuries later Mehmet Ali Pasha, Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, sent three giraffes,
One to London, one to Vienna and one to Paris, to stanch support for the Greeks
In their War of Independence. Only the French one, the one named Zarafa, survived.
5 giraffes for 18 centuries. Such rare gifts from old Egypt to careless Europe.

O giraffe, do not come to Europe! Go to China instead. There where the great admiral
Zheng He's crew brought you, thinking you the mythical qilin, the auspicious one,
Where the painter Shen Du wrote of you: "Its hoofs do not tread on living beings.
Gentle is this animal, that has in antiquity been seen but once."


17 Comments:

Anonymous Kgl said...

Lovely

9:34 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

Future poetry critics will say: "This was where he truly found his voice."

4:04 pm  
Blogger anne said...

...and the future is today, if i was a poetry critic

4:20 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

As it happens, I am a poetry critic. Well, a critic, anyway. Sort of one. More of an editor, really. But anyway, that was awesome. Where did you get the story of the Chinese giraffe?

5:20 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

I have my ear to the wind.

5:45 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

What is that? Some kind of metaphor?

6:13 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

Yes, that's exactly what it is.

6:40 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Is that meant to be ironic?

6:43 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

No. Are you drunk?

6:50 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

No, I'm just a literature major.

8:21 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

No you're not. Wouldn't you have mentioned something like that? Stop making things up.

To have (or keep) one's ear to the wind. I use it interchangeably with ear to the ground, which is probably the correct form.

8:41 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

Finally my poetry sparks a debate.

8:44 pm  
Blogger anon said...

FYI: I am a literature general ... and have no winds in my ears

10:43 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

OK, since we're making up titles for ourselves, I'll be a literature guerilla pope.

11:23 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Anon: "...that I know of".

Mikkel: In that case, I will be the Spanish literature Inquisition. Ask me why.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

OK. Why?

7:37 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Because nobody expects the Spanish literary Inquisition. Our chief weapons are suprise and fear. Fear and surprise. And dialectics and hermeneutics and an almost fanatical devotion to Jacques Derrida.

9:32 am  

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