Sampurna Chattarji: Neither Reckless Nor Complacent


The naming of Hannibal’s elephants.


They strode out of the Atlas,

flat-headed, fan-eared,

fighting with tusk and trunk,

smelling bad enough to drive the horses mad.

Historians, naturalists, archaeologists fussing

over a single Carthaginian coin.

Snow, and black

trumpeting rock.


Names invincible enough.

Names with war in their throats

and a dying hunger.

Spearheads entering flesh.

Mountains being scaled.


Only one survived.

Surus, the Syrian.

Indian elephant reaches Carthage from Syria via Egypt.

Names the colour of flint.


Their mouths turned blue.

In their brains the names still whirred,

thirty-seven bar one,

whispered by poets

in the form of birds that fell.

The gasp of the last big secret.

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