The Scribe’s Wife

by Alice Weiss

Even a great elephant can be fastened securely with a rope from the strands of a woman’s hair.

—Essays in Idleness The Tsurezuragusa of Kenko #9 Donald Keene, translator

I make my way through Kyoto, my hair
wound loosely around my skull,
its never-cut strands showing in the last
wreathes, gray and white. Strands of morning

clouds propose a day of heat or rain.
I dream I could choose between them
if I were in the high mountain woods riding
behind the floppy ears of an old nurse elephant.

I would choose heat, old man,
I would choose lily, dry wind pressing
its petals one against the other
until wetness springs, comes to cover all things.

The old nurse shakes her head
as if to cast me down into the late leaves,
soft moss, and scoop me in her trunk.
But I am not so small.  Old man,

your flesh has melted into mine leaving me
to carry the weight, and you to eat the air,
bony and cross legged at your low
reading table holding your head

with one hand, a quill in the other.
Behind the hut where I cannot see it
from the mountain path, yellow, yellow
leaves fall from the century- old

maidenhair tree. A craggy bull elephant
is bound to it by a rope of strands
I pulled by the roots from my scalp
when the tree was a single sapling.


Alice Weiss’s poems appear in the Alaska Quarterly Review; Constellation, Oddball Magazine;; Ibbetson Street 31; Radical Teacher, Liberty’s Vigil-Occupy Anthology; Wilderness House Literary; Muddy River Poetry Review, and Jewish Currents and in the spring, Cowboy Jamboree, and First Literary Review East. From 1977 to 1998 she practiced civil rights law in Louisiana. She says she came to New Orleans as a young lawyer from the Northeast eager to make change, and change is what happened to her. Now she tries to figure out what that meant (change).