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Recorded for Poem-a-Day April 8, 2019.
About this Poem 

“I was asked by the Dallas Museum of Art to peruse their catalogue and choose one of their holdings to write about. I adore the ekphrastic tradition. I had just finished reading an article in the New York Times about the insane massacre of elephants by poachers in search of ivory. I still had the news page tacked above my desk because I had hoped to find a way to write something to help serve this fight the elephant was in. While turning the pages of the catalogue I found Martin Puryear's magnificent Noblesse O’ sculpture. Though made of metal and paint it absolutely resembled the trunk of the great elephant raised and royal.”
—Nikky Finney

O' Noblesse O'

{on the occasion of Martin Puryear’s Noblesse O’ (red cedar and aluminum paint) at the Dallas Museum of Art}

Perfect for picking up marbles,
For finding, lifting, a favorite 
Blade of grass, O’ magic elastic straw of the watering hole,

Perfected for sucking, water, up,
Then miraculously aiming back
Around, into the mouth, mod implement for trumpeting sound,

And underwater snorkeling,
And cracking the shell but never the peanut, 
Graceful long-legged factory of olfaction, engineered for uprooting 

Eight hundred pounds of tree trunk,
Like an arm, you were designed for touch,
Elongated curious proboscis, at the tip waits opposable fingers,

The nerve endings 
Composed of the most sensitive tissue 
Found in the world, evolutionary marvel, one alone, 

Holding 150,000 fascicles,
All muscle, no bone, zero fat,
Only plush gray memory matter, inter-connected dorsal and ventral, 

Laterals, transverse and radiating,
The interior of your snout
Arranged like the wheel of a bicycle, engineered to control 

The larger movements in life, 
Up and down, side to side, (Run! He has a gun!)
The most versatile appendage ever designed, given the delicate flexibility 

Of something earth-rooted, 
As well as something in flight,
Coordinated precise contractions, making complex coiling movements, 

Reaching twenty-three feet 
In the air, for food, 
Wrestling with conspecifics, digging for water, raising mud beds,

Shoveling sand, wiping an eye,
Here rises all that is left of her,
Truncated assemblage of all her senses, beneath what you thankfully 

Cannot see, is the rest of her severed body,
Her last big movement, simple;
To hoist her oil can of a nose as high in the air as inhumanly possible, 

To warn her family,
Her trumpet calling out to her new calf 
Nearby, humans on all sides, she will still be alive when he swings 

His massive blade into her long thick snout,
As they, scurry away with her two front teeth,
Cassocked in their blood cloth, long prehensile double nostril writing 

Tube, made of smart flesh and mother muscle,
Monarch and Luna moth tissue, 
One hundred and forty pounds and 150,000 fascicles, each with a sense of  

Smell 4x that of a bloodhound,
Here rises the trunk of the last elephant, 
Who came as her mother came, to the watering hole, early in the day, 

Before the heat & the humans, 
To lower herself, to teach her calves, this is how to drink,
O’ Noblesse oblige, O’ Noblesse O.

Copyright © 2019 by Nikky Finney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2019 by Nikky Finney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney

In addition to the National Book Award, Finney has received a PEN American Open Book Award and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry

by this poet


One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone's headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as


Concerto no. 7: Condoleezza {working out} at the Watergate

Condoleezza rises at four, 
stepping on the treadmill. 

Her long fingers brace the two slim handles
of accommodating steel. 

She steadies her sleepy legs for the long day ahead. 
She doesn't get very far. 

Her knees buckle wanting
   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,