Ashwini Bhasi

adj. in rut; lustful; drunken; euphoric; mad

You ask me if I’ve ever touched an elephant.
My fingers traced their grey skin like parchment to read each crease like an old Vedic script with a plot so intricate, it altered with movement—soft and loose like you and me, and the melting ice sliding off a slanted Michigan roof. Chained elephant with gangrenous foot calmly eating coconut fronds in a parking lot, wild elephant in musth breaking electric poles like incense sticks. Do you want to hear the story of an obedient elephant adorned with a deity’s jewels and the drunken mahout who tore the elephant’s ear with a bull hook to make her stand still for hours on a melting tar road?

The elephant liked music and swayed her palm leaf ears in rhythm with the temple drums to forget what was happening to her feet. Did you read the latest issue of the American Genetics Journal that says, humans are closer to bonobos than an African elephant is to an Indian elephant? Why are you silent?

The elephant weighed 4000 kilos and her mahout less than 100. Is there a balancing equation of surrendering to one kind of pain to survive another? We are not bonobos locked in this office room; the elephant isn’t here. Your eyes are dark olives and the brine soaks through my skin. Ask me if the elephant was weak and before I answer, press the dulled wedding band into your finger harder. I’ll mirror your actions faithfully. I used to believe hair plucked from an elephant’s tail would bring good luck. So, I placed it in a gold ring, wore it every day, and with palms folded in prayer, I tried to cleanse myself in a holy river that flowed past my parent’s house.

You want to know if the elephant escaped. The unseen doesn’t exist until seen by another, and there is safety in the silence of sloughed feet stilled from running. I can tell you the mahout died. I cannot tell you if the elephant had anything to do with that. My fingers cannot trace that entire story. There are parts I’ve lost like sunlight in green river water when I left my country for yours. We can keep it clean. Wipe the musth from the surface. Leave the rest untouched in a controlled burn under this conference table.

Ashwini Bhasi is a bioinformatician from Kerala, India who is interested in exploring the somatics of shame, trauma and chronic pain through poetry and visual art. In addition to her recently released chapbook, Musth, winner of the 2020 Cutbank chapbook contest, her work can be found in Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, Frontier Poetry, The Offing and elsewhere.

© Variant Literature Inc 2022