The Zen of Translation
by John Bradley

In Memory of Lucien Stryk

This, you tell me, is the best moment of the elephant’s life.
Guilty of murder. Sentenced to public execution.

Luna Park, Coney Island.
Jan. 4, 1903. Topsy, age 28.

I leaf through Shinkichi Takahashi’s Triumph of the Sparrow.
With magnifying glass, I hunt for “Burning an Elephant to Death.”

Three trainers. Each: killed by the angry quadruped.
Her latest victim: a drunken clown. Feeding her a lit cigarette.

Consider self-immolation. When flesh surrenders to flame.
Flame collapsing into resistance. Ohm into Om.

They bring her celery. Carrots. Laced with cyanide.
They consider hanging her by a chain. An industrial crane.

Let me finish the beast with that foul AC current, says Edison.
Exhausted from electrocuting cats and dogs in the town square.

On a city street. The monk will douse his fire with gasoline.
Feed a single breath. Ignite himself. Flame after flickering flame.

I’ll make a film of it. “Electrocuting an Elephant.” The world will learn.
Tesla’s AC current will westinghouse you. In your own home.

Strapped to copper plates, Topsy contemplates. The camera feeds
on the enormity. Flesh surrendering to flame. Ohm to Om.

Bring wife and dog. Cat and child. Bring the three ton creature
a papier-mâché crown. Ten seconds,
says Edison, is all I need.

A battle in the war of currents. Consider DC, my electricity. Safe.
Safer than butterfly dung.
Edison nods. 6,600 volts churn.

Consider. All flesh as flesh. As swaying willow leaf.
Smoke rises. Topsy sways, swoons. Frame after flickering frame.

The unhoused refrain. From this body, inflamed. Deliver me, dear flame.
She falls. Across the camera, a worker strides. Never a groan.

Ten seconds. Topsy-turvy. Is all the viewer needs.
This, you tell me, is the best moment of your life.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 17, Issue 1.

placesaverJohn Bradley is the author of five books of poetry, prose poems, and aphorisms, his most recent Trancelumination (Lowbrow Press). He teaches at Northern Illinois University.

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