Pollux and Castor, elephants

by Sheila Hillier

Preparez – vous à des ragouts,

De rats aux champignons d’egouts’ Victor Hugo, Paris 1870

 

All night Krupps’ cannons pound the walls,

darkness smells of soil and gas

and at Voison’s, rue Cambon, a special black card

buys sauce souris on pate of rat.

 

It’s a challenge to garnish donkey with cepes;

there’s a gold market for cats of all colours

and now that all the lights are extinguished

everyone’s face looks like someone else’s.

 

At the Menagerie, a bear roams untended,

the African parrot is losing his feathers.

Castor feels itching deep in his trunk,

Pollux pads in the snow and shivers.

 

The gates of the Jardin des Plantes have been chained

for over a week, but now carts from de Boos

are waiting outside. Zebras are easy, Martin the bear

puts up a fight, so they draw on a ruse

 

and Adolphe Lebeeque, whom Castor knows well

wheels out the last kilo of branches and fruit

which he tips at the base of their sandpaper tree

as others take aim from the rainwater butt.

 

Baggy grey lumps too big to be dragged

so they’re jointed there in a scratch abbatoir.

Feet sliced away first, and eager talk spreads

to long lines outside the Boucherie Courtier.

 

A starving gourmet hurries out,

the carrier pidgeon’s fragile message

unfurled says, Yes! There’s going to be

a siege menu of ‘variety meats’ and elephant blood sausage.

 

Goncourt dines that evening, the sky

is brilliant with the enemy’s flares.

There’s consomm’ Oliphant, and filet de mullet

and rarest, by Choron, the trompe sauce Chasseur,

 

nearly spoiled by Adolphe, who wept in the snow,

arms round the dead Castor’s trunk, while at a distance

the butchers stood waiting to finish their work.

Adolphe wouldn’t let go and they cursed at the nuisance.