The Elephant Graves

Elephants know a macadam of bone,
cracked hips, shin shards, old tusks, and skulls,
gravel of pachyderms whose blood seeps through
in streams the young ones drink and spray at flies.
This road cuts through their marrow like jackal’s teeth
and winds in their huge heads like memory.

They always find this path by memory
bequeathed to them by something in their bones.
It grows in girth and hardens with their long teeth.
They reach its end when death seeps in their skulls,
where the road will soon extend with help from flies
who chew the dead to asphalt when they’re through.

No such gravel road passes through
the world of man, who buries memory
under stones to keep away the flies.
He never cuts his feet on kindred bone
or passes through the tunnels of a skull.
His only shards of jaw are lost teeth.

But death still sticks like cartilage in his teeth,
gristle he won’t feel till the meal’s done.
And as his last breath rattles in his skull,
he’ll wish he had an elephant’s memory
two tusks, a trunk to curl round ancient bone,
and feel inside his snout the way flesh flies.

Instead his eyes sputter like fireflies,
fear leeches in gasps between clenched teeth,
and muscles tighten down his bent backbone.
It’s night and he does not know a way through,
no road passed down through marrow and memory
that leads where he can empty out his skull.

What fills the dumb elephant’s huge skull
that’s not in man’s who made hard metal fly,
made God, and keeps Him alive in memory?
What’s in the tusks that’s not in wisdom teeth
that keeps a man from finding a road through
death, where elephants walk a macadam of bone?

Perhaps the memory’s too big for our skulls,
too hard for human bone and fearful eyes.
The gums of death, our teeth cannot cut through.           

***

Born and raised in New Orleans, Chris Hannan is a 2004 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where he received a bachelor of arts in the Classics, and a 2008 graduate of the the Loyola University, New Orleans, College of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Loyola Law Review.  His poetry has appeared in the Magnolia Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, Towncreek Poetry, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and is forthcoming in The Texas Review and The Connecticut Review.  He was awarded First Prize in the 2004 Gulf Coast Writers’ Association’s annual Let’s Write contest for his poem “Pointing to the Brain,” and was the runner-up in the 2010 Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Competition for his poem “Epithalamion.”   Most recently, Chris won the Grand Prize in the 2012 Tennessee Williams Festival Poetry Contest for his cycle of poems entitled “The Nephilim.”

Chris is currently an attorney in the New Orleans offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz.  He and his wife Emily live in Mid-City, New Orleans, with their son Jack William and two cats.

Chris is the author of Leadbelly, also included in the fourth issue of Sliver of Stone.

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