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Joan Colby

joancolbywaterline2017 Joan Colby’s Selected  Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Her Heartsongs from Presa Press, Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press, Elements from Presa Press, .and Bony Old Folks from Cyberwit Press.


The tents have been folded and hauled
Into history. The African with its huge ears
Like the leaves of a prehistoric plant.
The Indian, beast of burden, with its
Jeweled howdah. The elephant men
With their piercing goads.

Chained at night, by day they danced
Or crammed ttheir enormous feet to pose
On a small pedestal. Beautiful women rode
Their massive heads. It is said
They love peanuts and fear mice.

Three blind men explored its armature
Each wrong in his own way
As philosophers differ. The first cause:
How the elephant dominates the room
With an invisible presence.

An elephant named Mary was hanged in Tennessee
For having slain her trainer in a rage.
Let this be a lesson to rogue elephants,
Defiant children, runaway slaves.

In the movie, elephants insisted
On their tribal route. They paraded
Through the mansion. Trail of destruction
As the staircases collapsed, the plantation
Of coffee trees in disarray.

An elephant never forgets where it buries
Its dead. A graveyard of ivory.
Its face sawed off by poachers.
Elephants: the royal creatures
That Rajas ride to hunt the tiger.

The elephant delivers justice.
His foot that crushes the convicted
Becomes a dowager’s footstool.

Platinum pachyderm,
Gift of the avenger.
Elected to the pantheon of
The Hindu gods. Ganesha
Who blesses the arts. God of wisdom.
Lord of letters.

James the First decreed the vulgar
Shall not gaze upon the elephant.
His wardens preserved the park
For the king’s pleasure.

Weep for the man who has seen the elephant.
He is no longer pure of heart.
He knows what god prohibited
In the garden. He sees the world
With small shrewd eyes.


Brutal cliffs rise from the sea
That grinds its molars on the breakers
Until the air is brined
And our eyes burn.

A frown of cloud completes the dialogue
Of ocean and our sighting
Of the bird island whitened with gannets
Winging the crevices.

Bitter words.
A dictionary of years eroded
Like these rocky acres. Stone on stone
Where wind and water scourged.

We light the peat fires of the past,
Our old earth-scented passions,
Climb the steep path that monks
Trod to comfortless huts.

A bald pantheon of prayer.
A gull’s cry to split the drizzled heavens.


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