after the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus

The tusks of the Marsh Elephants
                                    are dark, fibrous & difficult
                                   to carve, given their many sun-
                                    ken cavities & other knots
resisting incision. Mountain
                                   Elephants’ tusks are far smaller
                                   & brighter & easier to work.
But the tusks of Plains Elephants
                                    are the finest & the whitest,
                                    allowing human hands ample
                                    volutes to execute designs.
Indians consider the Marsh Kind
                                   stupid & deaf, & the Mountain
                                   Kind crafty & malevolent,
                                   as opposed to the Plains Kind, said
                                   to be tractable & fond of
                                                                                         mimicry.
These latter pachyderms, locals
                  claim, can write, dance, sway to music,
                  leave the ground & slowly ascend
                                                                                          into the air.

Apollonius saw the El-
                  ephants cross the Indus (about
                                    thirty of them, I imagine.)

As for Lionesses, it seems
                  they sometimes take stud leopards
                  for lovers on the open plain
                  & then retreat to the hills, ripe
                  in womb, where if their offspring bears
                  spots, they proceed to conceal them,
                  suckling them in secret thickets.
                  Their husbands, discovering this,
                  then tear these bastard broods of pups
                                    to shreds.

In search of its cub, a Tigress
                  will go as far as the Red Sea
                                    & howl on the beach as the dhows
                                                      recede.

I saw this seal at Aegeae
                  in a cage, on public display,
                  so wild with grief for her dead calf
                  (born in captivity) that (though
                  seals be known for voracity)
                  she refused to eat any squid
                  for over a week—and for me
                  it all became allegory.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 1, on page 26
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