Nan

by Rose Proudfoot

Nan doesn’t know who I am. She shows me her picture book,
we argue over the page, she says elephant! But it’s a cat.
No point the nurse says let it be an elephant.

Someone shouts what’s that crap on the tv? It’s not a tv,
just a screen disguised as a fish tank, can’t have real fish,
I suppose that is crap.              (elephant not cat)

Five kilos. That’s how much an elephant’s brain can weigh.
During drought matriarchs lead the herd to fertile land,
younger elephants don’t know where to go.

Poachers target older elephants for their size,
so when she dies the whole herd forgets where to find water.
What ties us to the earth? When a fish is not a fish,

and the dark shadow on the carpet is a deep hole? And the
shadow is cast by us, peering, under a ceiling light? Stuck in loops,
real/not-real, tied in knots, tied by not knowing, unknowing, undone.

Her mind is a lost herd, thirsty, lowering trunks into the
brain’s dust pits, chewing the sand, dirt-dry-mouthed.
No one knows, someone knew once, but she’s not here anymore.

When those great tusks are powdered up,
or played as keys on a grand piano that squats in an ugly corner,
does the dust carry scents of wet soil? Of earth that needed to be known?

Listen. Birds sing near water, her song is playing in the dark.
When mothers die, how many past mothers leave with them?
How much is lost, how many thousands of losses?

Thousands of mothers are echoing through the bleary eye of
an old woman, watching a fish swim on a loop in something that isn’t water.
Fragments fall through the brain’s sifting pan, too small to cling on;

muddy they drop into the river, mother-water, river of lost water songs.
Only fool’s gold left behind, a trick of the eye,
a glint of light, refracted, wastes of wasting time.

Her mind is a baby elephant, clinging on to the mother’s tail,
following dutifully but too small to see. No craning of the neck
can reveal the long trail, then the tail becomes a fraying rope.

Elephant/ not-elephant/ cat. Let it be whatever she needs it to be.
I let her elephants bathe in the mud of the watering hole.
Let them drink and drink and drink.