Poem of the Week | July 12, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Love Poem Grounded in the Seismic Communication of Elephants” by Jennifer Richter!

Natasha Trethewey chose Jennifer Richter’s first collection Threshold as a winner in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry; Richter’s second collection, No Acute Distress, was a Crab Orchard Series Editor’s Selection, and both books were named Oregon Book Award Finalists. Richter teaches in Oregon State University’s MFA program. Recent poems have been featured in ZYZZYVA and The Los Angeles Review.

 

Love Poem Grounded in the Seismic Communication of Elephants

So who do we know that’s happily married
you ask in bed tonight after two more dear
friends split. We’re quiet awhile, lie baffled
by the largest silence of our lives: no more
desk chairs rumbling upstairs; no phones
thunked to the hardwood at 2am, slipped
from our sleeping children’s hands. Empty
nest, week one, I needed noise; at the fair
I bought clay elephants. Artist: age eight.
Sold only as a pair. Just like ours, I thought:
the smaller one who doesn’t miss a thing,
its ears like two full sails; the other’s head
tipped and listening, its trunk curled into
a question. Our son around that age said
elephants can sense what’s coming. Asked
if we knew. His best friend’s dad had just
moved out and left their house a wreck.
What’s coming is sometimes a tsunami,
sometimes the beloved mate’s vibration.
Nights now when we touch and shudder,
we let our echoes stampede every room.
This gray clay couple grown to look alike:
of course they’re not the kids. Same flat
feet as ours, same wrinkly skin, all ears
except our future comes as a constant
surprise. Who knew? The elephants’
bones conduct the music when they
listen—the earth’s movement trembles
in their toenails, then pulses up their
skeleton’s vast map to the inner ear
which recognizes the low frequency
of natural disaster or lasting love.

 

Author’s Note

This is one of the few love poems I’ve written that resists getting fully hijacked, as life can, by complications or calamity. To stay in a more settled space in the poem, I turned to the elephants; in life, I turn to my husband. They all have such huge hearts.

This poem is from my new manuscript The Really Big One, a project initially inspired by the pairing of my surname and Oregon’s urgent earthquake preparation. Over time, the manuscript has expanded to become a consideration of the ways we—as individuals, as families, as communities—cycle through periods of shattering and healing.

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