“At the Circus” by P.C. Vandall

P.C. Vandall


He says elephants can hear a rainstorm
a hundred miles away and when they come
upon the bones of their dead they touch skulls
and tusks with their trunks. They never forget.

What I recall from under the big top
is the elephant ride Dad put me on.
The elephant plodded slowly, swaying
like water, leaving footprints like unlit

moons across the dirt floor. I remember
feeling silly as if I were left on
display in some department store window.
The animal lumbered on, so painfully

slow that not even the dust stirred beneath
his shackled feet. I was sitting on top
of a saggy mountain, my world tinted
gray as we weaved like a Winnebago

through winter. When it ended, I rushed off
without a word to anyone. I wish
now I had taken the time to look, touch
and give thanks. I never heard the air shift,

the clouds darken or the rain fall before
it hit the ground. What’s left is the memory
of my father and that elephant going
in massive silent circles to please me.

Poets Respond
May 22, 2016

[download audio]


P.C. Vandall: “I wrote this poem in response to the article I read about circus elephants being retired and sent to an elephant sanctuary. When I was a kid my father took me to the circus and as a present bought me an elephant ride. Wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of them. Their spines are not made to support the weight of humans. To tame a wild elephant, it’s spirit must be broken. My hope I guess is that the elephant I rode made it to a sanctuary and is living its days out in peace. I have the same hope for my father.” (website)

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