First Death


Do you remember

the first time

you and Death


I do.

You were seven

 We moved to Wiltshire farmland

an old stone and brick house

built upon an underground river

a seventeeth century pub

and the river ran

through the cellar

to keep the spirits cool

but it kept us cold and damp

 No heaters, just coal grates

one in each of the two

ground floor rooms

no fires to warm the upstairs

where we slept

where icicles gathered

on your father’s whiskers

in those long winter nights

and where oil lamps

gave more heat than light

The wind always whistled

across the chimneys

and through our bones

even in the midst of summer

~ * ~ 

Just over the rise,

on Lord Bath’s park estate,

animals roamed free,

outside the tunnel cages

built for people

Here a baby elephant,

named Zola Bud

an Ethiopian famine-rescue

brought to a queen’s land

lived amongst giraffes,

one-hump camels

and a little girl of seven


Zola and the child,

sisters at play

one carried the bucket

the other trotted behind

trunk on shoulder

like a child’s extended arm

elephant shadowing

everywhere the child went


One warm spring day

released to the sun

and allowed to play

she fell into the bog

her heart, still frail

scarred from starvation

stopped its sweet beating

 Do you remember?

The only shadow

that followed you then

was Death

your first one

an Ethiopian elephant

silent and spent Mag 34  The Oil Lamp

Photos courtesy of google images



Filed under Poetry

33 responses to “First Death

  1. This is so tragic. It just makes my heart ache. Very beautifully written.

    Mine is here.

  2. Barbara

    This tugs at the heart, so bittersweet and tender, and how abruptly and inexplicably death enters into a child’s world…

    • abruptly – perfect word. There is no other that describes death as well – no matter how prepared we are, always it ends abruptly – once here, now gone. Done. Thank God we can remember.

  3. This was a beautifully written and haunting tale. Nice writing.

  4. how moving, it reminds me of how I felt when I was a child, my family members got sick…

    skilfully written tale,
    your words paint such vivid images, unforgettable piece…
    loved your gentle heart in portraying the sadness from a child’s eyes.

    • Thank you, Jingle. It is hard for children to see suffering and death, even though they don’t understand the finality of it – luckily, they have the ability to cry one moment and start laughing and playing the next.

  5. Being an animal lover this breaks my heart. Zola what a beautiful elephant!

    • It was a real tregedy, but we were consoled a little by the fact that when she came to England, her crust-infected skin hung like a sheet on her bones, and by the time she died, she was plump, healed and a happy little adventurer. And she died on a stunningly beautiful spring day.

  6. So sad and yet so interesting too! Reminds me somewhat of Psalm 23. Wanna come see my Magpie? It’s at

    • Thank you, luna, and interesting, your comment as well – I never thought of that. I’d love to visit your site. I’ll be there in a minute!

    • Hi Shigune, I tried to read your site – took several tries to reach it (kept getting a statement that it didn’t exist) and finally got through. After entering my comment, it wouldn’t accept my name, despite doing everything twice. Sorry, I gave up after that.

  7. A poignant account linking death with childhood, not usual companions…

  8. intriguing write…you hook me right from the beginnning witht he question…because i have…so sad,,,glad you shared a bit more in the comments…elephants are so majestic…

    • Thanks Brian. Sometimes I tell my daughter that one of the unique things about her extraordinary life – one that has included many animals, large and small, wild and tame, is that the first person she lost to death was an elephant. I mean, how many people can say that? And in England, of all places! Yes, it was sad, and I really appreciate your comments, as always. Bless you for all the work you do for writers – especially the encouragement.

  9. Such a sad story so well told.

    Thank you for your kind words on my blog.

  10. such a heartbreaking tale made worse by the fact that it is true


    • Yes. I agree. I loved your site and left a comment on one poem. Have added you to my blogroll after reading your About page. I hope that’s okay. You have a lovely heart worth sharing.

  11. I can’t even imagine seeing one in that kind of setting, so up close and personal and without zoo rules. And then to lose her, so so sad.

    • The lady who was the keeper of the giraffes and camels (one-humpers) was our friend and she was given the care of the orphan baby elephant. We visited her on weekends, and the first week my daughter was shown how to rub vaseline all over her cracked and parched skin. Even then, when Zola was in such poor condition, she followed my daughter everywhere. I guess she was the only thing small enough to look like a sister. Everybody else had big humps or long necks!

  12. Bittersweet memory. Beautifully told, Brokenpen.

  13. this is a heart-touching story told so poetically. Thank you. I really enjoyed the flow and tone and sentiment of it.

  14. Ouch. Painful and beautifully told. Well done.

  15. This brought a tear to my eyes. Masterfully written and incredibly sad.

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