their hearts and minds are bursting with emotion, and all the world sees is ivory and a circus tent.
if they live long enough, they forget everything.
most of them don't live that long. nine out of ten are slaughtered in their prime, decades before their memories have started to drain. i speak of the majority, then, when i say it is true what you've heard: they never forget.
they themselves think this accounts for their size. some go so far as to claim that under that thunderhead of flesh and those huge rolling bones they are memory. they contain memory, yes, but what may not be so well known is that they are doomed without it. when their memories begin to drain, their bodies go into decline, as if from a slow leakage of blood.
before then, every odour they have ever sucked into their trunks, every flicker of sunlight they have ever doused with their tremendous shadows is preserved inside them as a perfect and instantly retrievable moment. they rarely ask, do you remember? the remembering is taken for granted. it is the noticing that they question: did you smell that? did you see it?
they see better than you may imagine. don't believe the stories about their being half blind. they gaze at the horizon, make out what's there, and unlike the carnivores are never dazzled by a herd of moving zebras. if the herd is close enough they can pick out individuals, knowing them by their stripes alone and from a brief look years earlier. the precise tenor of the wind that lowed in the acacias that day, how the sun slammed down through the foliage - these accompany the memory and are re-experienced, and what was scarcely noticed at the time can now be dwelt upon.
suppose, off to one side, waves of salt dust had swirled up from the pan. in memory, they can turn their gaze on the waves and ponder this phenomenon of a lake bed dreaming its lost lake.
which may start them weeping. to a degree that we would call maudlin they are sentimental; even the big bulls are. any kind of loss or yearning breaks their hearts.
- prologue from THE WHITE BONE [barbara gowdy]