Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Hercules and the Lions"

This poem was written outside the prompt calls, inspired by a link from from Dreamwidth user Dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "environmental studies" square in the 10-31-14 Science Bingo Fest public card. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics, which you can find via the Serial Poetry page.

This poem is posted here as the participation perk for Winterfaire 2014, which you can visit on LiveJournal or on Dreamwidth. All of these activities will reveal a new verse each time someone does them:
* link to this Winterfaire page to boost the signal
* comment posting a Booth of your wares/services in the Winterfaire
* buy something from a vendor listed in the Winterfaire
* host a similar holiday market in your own blog or other venue
LiveJournal and Dreamwidth will notify me of comments to the Winterfaire post and links to it elsewhere on those services; for everything else, you need to TELL ME in order to get credit for it.

There are 48 of 53 verses posted.  Participants so far include: thnidu, DW user Alexseanchai, ellenmillion, DW user Helgatwb, starcat_jewel, DW user Lynnoconnacht, janetmiles, lb_lee, DW user Plures, aazari, cat_sanctuary, DW user chanter_greenie, moonwolf1988, valarltd, dreamwriters,

Hercules and the Lions

Chikondi Kanga enjoyed his job
as a tour guide at the Chinzombo Camp
of the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

He loved the bush and the local people
and the tourists who came to see both.
He loved the wildlife and the tough plants that
he had studied in his environmental science classes.

When Chikondi led tours, he taught people
about the bush and its creatures,
the meaning of signs along the trail
and the behavior of the animals they watched.

"See how fast the zebras swish their tails
as we approach? That means they're nervous,"
he said. "When a hippo gapes his mouth,
that's a threat display and you should back off.
They can drag you underwater to drown."

One morning Chikondi was scouting
in preparation for an afternoon tour,
when he spied a yearling elephant
separated from the herd. It was sad
to watch the little fellow, knowing that
he probably would not find his family
and was almost certain to die.

When a pride of fourteen lionesses appeared
and began to stalk the young straggler,
Chikondi noted the time and location in hope
of catching them on the later tour.

The park used to have a poaching problem,
but was currently well protected, and
the elephants were vulnerable but
not endangered, so he did not intervene.

First one and then another of the lionesses
jumped onto the baby's backside,
but they seemed to have some difficulty
gaining traction on the thick hide.

The yearling elephant bawled in distress,
running back and forth in the grass,
trying to shake off the clinging cats.
Strangely, there was no blood.

Something shifted, then; the elephant
bucked off the current lioness and
ran toward the nearest watering hole.

A sort of ripple went through the air,
not visible but tangible, and Chikondi
flinched at the rough shove against his mind.

The little elephant turned on the lions,
flaring his ears and lifting his tail in warning.

Mommy! Auntie! HELP! cried a silent voice.
GET OFF! Get away from me!

Chikondi looked around, desperate to find
the tourist who had gotten in the way of the wildlife --
and then he realized that the cry for help
was coming from the baby elephant.

Without hesitation Chikondi grabbed the rifle
from the jeep and fired it into the air.

The lionesses spooked, shying away from the noise,
and the elephant flapped his ears in distress.

It was all very well to let animals be animals,
but when there was a person involved,
that was different.

This is going to get noisy, Chikondi warned,
pointing toward the watering hole.
Get in the water and stay there.

He hoped that the elephant's telepathy
would pick up the gist of the message,
and soon the calf headed for the water.

Chikondi fired again, kicking up dust
near the lionesses, driving them
further from their intended prey.

After a few more shots, they gave up
and trotted away into the bush.

Auntie?  came the anxious query.

Chikondi didn't correct that, since
only female elephants raised the calves.
It's safe to come out now, he thought.

The elephant child crept out of the water
and came toward him, wary and hesitant.
Despite having been pawed by several lions,
there wasn't a mark on the calf except for mud.

He's a sturdy little fellow, and so strong!
Chikondi thought. I'll call him Hercules.

Something like thunder and earthquake
went through the ground, tickling
Chikondi's feet in their sturdy boots.

A herd of elephants hurried over the horizon,
bugling with alarm. At once Hercules
flung up his trunk and rushed to meet them.

Chikondi grinned at the reunion.

When the matriarch approached him
with flared ears and a forward trunk swish,
however, he stopped grinning and dove into the jeep.

Mommy Mommy no don't smash Auntie!
the little voice wailed.

The matriarch's shocked look needed no translation.

Some explanation must have passed between them
as Hercules squeaked and rubbed against her legs,
because she tucked her ears back and stopped rumbling.

Then Hercules tried to approach the jeep,
perhaps encouraged by his mother's presence,
and curious about his strange rescuer.

Instantly she yanked him back with her trunk.

He whined and squirmed, so like a human toddler
that Chikondi had to laugh. He might as well
have been watching his sister wrangle her son.

Eventually the calf's urging prevailed,
and his mother let him go.

Hercules edged closer, slowly,
and Chikondi stayed inside the jeep
which seemed to reassure the elephants.

The baby's trunk groped over the jeep's solid base
and then ventured into the open part of the cab.
Two sensitive fingers explored the texture
of Chikondi's uniform and dark wooly hair.

Auntie, the little elephant declared.

So Auntie it was, and Chikondi
did his best to live up to the title.

He kept watch over the family herd,
bringing gifts of bananas and melons
until the older elephants began to accept him,
and kept the tourists occupied in other parts of the park
so as not to disrupt the ecosystem or the delicate negotiations.

He told stories, which apparently Hercules
was translating, and that gained more respect.

One afternoon when Chikondi was sitting outside
painting the gorgeous Zambian sunset,
Hercules wandered up and began
sniffing around the box of paints.

"What, do you want to try?" Chikondi said.
"Go ahead, little one, let's see if you're an artist too!"

Hercules was.

It took him a while to get the hang
of holding a paintbrush without breaking it,
and to learn which end to put where,
but after that he made rapid progress.

He showed a clear taste for the bold pan-African colors
that Chikondi himself preferred, even though
Chikondi offered him pastels and neons for variety.

Hercules painted in broad strokes,
not quite abstract, not quite representational --
stylized, Chikondi decided, looking at a swath of blue
above golden brown dotted with blobs of black
that might have been almost any kind of herd animal.

* * *


Hercules -- He is an African elephant about one year old as of spring 2014. After surviving a lion attack, he became friends with a local tour guide, Chikondi Kanga, who named him after a legendary Greek hero. Hercules refers to Chikondi as "Auntie" because only female elephants raise the calves. Their friendship led to an exploration of art. Hercules has a strong sense of African culture and takes pride in his homeland. When offered a choice of different colors for painting, he consisently chooses the deep bold tones popular with many neighboring humans -- crimson, hunter green, gold, lapis blue, violet, etc.
Origin: In spring of 2014, he was attacked by a pride of fourteen lionesses, and his superpowers manifested to save him. The lionesses were very confused.
Uniform: None. He goes nude.
Qualities: Good (+2) African Culture, Good (+2) Artist, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Friends with Chikondi Kanga
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Strength, Good (+2) Telepathy, Average (0) Invulnerability, Average (0) Telekinesis
Motivation: To learn and to grow.

Chikondi Kanga -- He has rich brown skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. He first became an amateur guide as a member of the wildlife conservation club at school, and he got a degree in Environmental Studies. Currently Chikondi works as a tour guide at the Chinzombo Camp of the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. There he made friends with a young elephant, Hercules, who has superpowers.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Environmental Scientist, Expert (+4) Tour Guide, Good (+2) Artist, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Enthusiasm, Good (+2) Friends with Hercules, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Mechanic, Good (+2) Tea Service
He speaks Bemba, English, French, German, Portuguese, and Tonga.

* * *

Chinzombo is a camp in the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.  Tourists go there to see the landscape and many types of wildlife.

African elephants are considered vulnerable but not endangered.  They communicate with a variety of vocalizations and body language.

The elephant life cycle is similar to that of humans, with a long childhood and adolescence during which the offspring are tended by mothers and other relatives.  A yearling elephant is much like a human toddler.

Elephant cognition is subtle and complex.  They don't think quite the way humans do, but it is increasingly clear that they have profound mental and emotional lives.

Elephant trunks are pretty amazing.  African elephants have two fingers on the end, and an adult's trunk can lift up to 770 pounds. An elephant's sense of smell can be four times as sensitive as that of a bloodhound, so elephants can smell water several miles away.

Chikondi drives this style of safari jeep.
Safari Jeep

Elephants enjoy art and music.  There have been a number of elephant artists, including both Asian and African ones, who now have a gallery.  Watch a video of an elephant painting a picture.  While some elephants have been trained to produce specific images, others have been accorded free expression.  Not all elephants like to paint, and of those who do, their skill varies widely -- just as in humans.

[To be continued ...]
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, wildlife, writing
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