Poetry: One Elephant, Two Elephant | clivejames.com
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One Elephant, Two Elephant

Denis Zafiro, Last of the Great White Hunters —
Reduced now, a fact worth blessing, to the role of guide —
No rifle any more, just a mid-range Japanese camera
And even that he would keep under wraps. “The last
Of the great white photographers.” One of his jokes—

Took Hemingway out on the almost fatal safari
In which Papa, extravagantly even for him,
Contrived to be in a plane crash twice, thus smashing
Himself up good, so that on his epaulettes
Could be seen, Denis said, green muck coming out of his skull
Like oatmeal porridge.

                                           Last of the great white contacts,
Denis, when our safari left Nairobi
Could have ridden up front like Rommel in his staff car
Attacking out of retreat in Sidhi Barani
But no, he stayed modestly in the background
While our cameraman, intrepid as all get out
Knocked off the required footage of lions and rhinos
And cheetahs licking their lips, with even a glimpse of leopard,
Considered unfindable save by Denis’s sidekick
Kungu, who muttered comments in Swahili
Which Denis translated as “Leopard over there, I think”

And there she was, a set of spots deep in a tree-clump
Stuck to the spot with her spots resolutely unchanging
For the full two hours till she finally took a crap.
“A bowel movement, but at least she moved” jested Denis
Who had a million of them.

                                                   So it went on
Good usable stuff up till the day we rested
The crew, as the union dictates. Thank God for those rules
Or there would be crosses all over the Masai Mara
To mark the death by exhaustion of the modern impi,
The tough men in sleeveless bush shirts
With the tricep tattoos and a camera on their shoulder
That you and I could barely pick up. Our chap was Mike:
“We’re doing OK so far but nothing fantastic,
So if you two see anything don’t for Christ’s sake tell me.”

Denis thought that an off-piste mini-safari
With me up front while Kungu taught me Swahili
And him in the back at ease like Diana Dors
In a Daimler (his showbiz images tended to be
A bit out of date, though it’s never wise to argue
With a man who actually knew Ava Gardner),
A trip to show me a few unscripted attractions
That often won’t sit still for a movie camera
Would be a good thing. He was like a book collector
Showing you his library. I could tell from how he spoke
He was Africa mad, so he had his favourite locations
For shooting stills, like a ford five miles away
Of bumpy driving, nothing too bad, he promised.
And pretty, even if nothing happened. Well he
Was right, it was pretty. Just wrong about the nothing.

We stood on the inner bank of a curve in the river
And I had to take it on trust that under the surface
Was a shallow stretch the bigger beasts could walk on
“Elephant,” he said “quite often cross here.
You see whole families of them at a time.”
As if on cue, three elephant, four elephant,
An entire family showed up out of the bush
Which guarded the opposite like a crescent moon
And assembled on the bank. “Well, there you are”
Laughed Denis. “Your luck’s uncanny. Straight from the movies.
No wonder Kungu wants to touch you so often.”

But even as he spoke, there were lots more of them
So the first ones had to move, like shunted box cars
Into the oxtail water. More than thirty
Were now in the frame, except we had no frame;
But Denis’s Nikon made a rare appearance.
“Well, Kungu can pick them. This is all your doing.
I’ve never seen this, never in all my time
In Africa. And neither has he.”

                                                       And Kungu was speaking:
In between the air-horn blasts from a New York grid-lock
With half of downtown occupied by Mack ten-wheelers,
I caught a few mentions of tembo, meaning elephant
But the other words were double Dutch to me.
“He hasn’t seen this since he was a boy.”
And there were more to come, but by now the Kombis
Of all the tourist firms were gathering
At the point where the first family were now emerging
To climb the bank on the side near us.

                                                                      A lane was left
To let the elephant by, but the flashing lights
On the cameras must have seemed a storm. One tusker
Flared out its ears and bellowed. “By Christ,”
Said Denis “If this one charges, they all will.”
They didn’t charge, but there was a bit of a panic,
And that was scary enough. I know I sound
Like Falstaff telling Hal how many thieves
He put to flight, but really there were fifty
Elephant tightly packed and churning around
To take their turn at scrambling from the soup.
In the river, the tots beside their mothers
Were near invisible, their little trunks
Held up like snorkels.

                                        Open mouthed
(Like The Three Stooges, Denis later said,
Bang up to date as usual. Thanks a bunch.)
We watched one mother tuck her trunk beneath
Her pup and hoik him out, swing like a crane
And put him on the bank. And guess who didn’t
Get the shot. “Oh blast!” said Denis, fiddling
With the switches that had changed his life.

Was of the opinion that the magic touch
Was mine, but he was also the first one —
As we bumped slowly home again across the veldt —
To say what needed saying. Denis said
“He says we have to keep our day a secret.”
I dumbly added “Especially from my crew.”
“That’s who he meant,” said Denis. Pale pink light
Was growing deeper in the sky
When we got back to camp. Cameraman Mike
Said “Anything good happen?” From the way
We said it hadn’t he soon guessed that it had
But kept shtum for our young producer’s sake.
And anyway next day we filmed two leopard.

Standpoint, October 2100