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Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

Without You

The kids never tire of asking me: “What’s your favourite animal, Mum?” I can tell they’re disappointed when I say “Well, I love all of them.” What a typically adult response. So wishy-washy. But, really, how to choose between the versatile chameleon, the swaying praying mantis, the electric hummingbird? And what about the irrepressible giant otter, and the curiously vulnerable black rhino? It seems impossible to select a favourite amongst all the world’s wonderful creatures. But if I really had to, if my life depended on it, or if my kids threatened to withhold my week’s pocket money, I would say my all-time favourite animal is... the elephant.

I wrote the poem below in praise of elephants. It seems rhyming poems are not fashionable these days, and I think I understand why. They too easily feel forced and awkward. But I have a soft spot for rhyming poems (maybe because of the hundreds I’ve read to the kids over the years). Anyway, I’ve tried to express my deep admiration and empathy for the elephant and I think I’ve succeeded in that, but, technically speaking, I sense the poem falls short. If you have any thoughts on where I’ve gone wrong, I would appreciate hearing them.

Elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk

Without You

They come in gracious, single file,

Unhurried in their gait.

Epic in their ancient bulk,

Ponderous with weight.

Pillared legs and cushioned feet,

Soundless as a shadow.

Steps light as wind-borne seeds

Though they should boom and echo.

Shrivelled flanks and wrinkly knees,

Their corrugated skin,

Dry and cracked and dusty grey,

Seems paper parchment thin.

As they drink and babies play,

Like poetry in motion,

Trunks twirl and curl, quest and dip

With solicitous devotion.

Flapping ears are ragged sails

In a windless sea, becalmed.

Temples weeping, tails sweeping...

Then dung falls to the ground.

Now dreamy in the tinted dawn,

Trunks draped over timeworn tusks,

One gnarled foot tucked ‘hind the other,

Long lashed eyes half-shut.

No animal I know

So endears itself to me.

Oh, elephants of Africa,

How poor this world would be

Without you.

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