The Museum Elephants

Elephant in Rotunda of Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Within the murmurous expanse
Beneath the bas-relief-ringed dome
The taxidermied elephants
Reign over their eternal home:

With tiles for the grass-giving earth;
For sun-burnt destinations, walls.
Eight times a week, the monkey mirth
Of school groups echoes through the halls

While in and out the galleries
Architectonically discrete
The docents’ high-toned rhapsodies
Contend with sounds of scuffling feet.

And once a month someone comes in
Brushes the dust from wrinkled skin
Sweeps cobwebs from the painted skies
And polishes the glittering eyes.



Image: Elephant in Rotunda by Don DeBold, published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license. Yes, there is only one elephant under this rotunda. So lonely… Here is another view of the same elephant:


(Sketch showing the measurements of the elephant taken by Josef J. Fénykövi in 1955, which was used by the taxidermists to assist in the preparation of the mount. Image from Smithsonian Institution Archives (link). I am informed and believe that this image is in the public domain as a U.S. Government work. 17 U.S.C. § 105.)

Here are some more museum elephants, perhaps they are less lonely…


(African Elephants, by Flickr user Neil R, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.)


1 thought on “The Museum Elephants

  1. The rhyme scheme underlying this feels unforced so that I find I’m enjoying the images and paradoxes you describe. And when you alter that scheme in the final verse it is like waking from a reverie — as indeed most of the preceding is. Admirable stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s