Featured image by Saengduean Lek Chailert

Where elephants go to die were

departments of Spanish literature

in remote Plains and Midwestern colleges.

according to Jose Donoso. For me,

these pictures of an emaciated, starved,

older female, broken, tired, fallen

on the ground, shatter childhood illusions,

seeing majestic wild elephants in families

and herds roaming jungles at Yala, in Wilpattu,

and hundreds of domestic siblings trained

to pull trees and carry loads along island roads.


I never thought of chains on their ankles,

the whips to tame them. No longer.

Not anymore.  I will not close my eyes

until they expire. Stop the whipping.

Stop chaining elephants and forcing them

to march bedecked in robes. Damn

the festival parade. Damn our thrill

seeing elephants dolled up and marching

with their mahouts before applauding

crowds. For what? What grace does

an owner gain, showing off his slave?


Damn owners. Damn the spectacle.

Damned animals jumping through hoops

in the circus. Damn the ringmaster,

investors. Damn all perpetrators

and accomplices. No more. Not

any longer. Free the elephants.

Free prisoners of conscience.

Free ourselves, friends. Now.

Let elephants out of their stalls

tonight while you sleep.

Wake up tomorrow, unshackled.

Editor’s Note: This week, there were conversations online around Tikiri, a 70-year-old elephant who participates in the Perahera. This poem continues those discussions.