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The Elephants

Lake Michigan, Scene 20

Daniel Borzutzky

On screen we see hats in the air and they float and float

The hats sit on disembodied heads that float beneath them

The bodies of the heads stay on the ground       the heads float up with their hats

Tied to the hats are pink and yellow streamers

Some heads carry balloons in their mouths

They make us watch this on the shores of Lake Michigan

This film about the ghosts whose heads float off their bodies           over the church steeples           over the Hancock Tower          the Water Tower          one of the only buildings to survive the great Chicago fire of 1871

On screen a boy is chasing the heads that move up and down with the wind trying to catch them with his hands          a baseball glove          a net

The mayor orders the chief of police to make us watch this film on Tuesdays before our nightly feeding

The chief of police orders the guards to usher us to our seats on the beach

The film is projected on the outer wall of the recreation center

We sit cross-legged on the sand           hundreds of us crammed together so closely our elbows jab into each other’s fatless bodies

Our feet kick faces our toes touch noses           eyes           mouths

They cram us together to watch the film and when the boy on screen finally catches one of the floating heads they force us to cheer and when we cheer they beat us

They force us to clap and when we clap they love us

They force us to sing and when we sing they throw garbage at us          rotten vegetable          chewed up pieces of meat          soiled diapers          soda cans          etc…

After the film they move us to our cages which are built like giant egg containers

A dozen of us fit into each container and we don’t have enough room to stretch our legs from front to back

We make ourselves as small as possible when we sleep

And when it’s morning a giant forklift picks up the container then dumps us into a bathtub where the authoritative bodies ask us to imagine that our bodies are the border between Country X and Country Z

Your body is a line they tell us

Your body is an invisible line and you must do your best to not welcome the immigrants who step over you as they cross from one civilization to another

Feel the dying immigrants stepping on your useless body

Feel the immigrants dying of dehydration on your filthy pinhole of a body

You do not own your body anymore the authorities remind us

Your body is owned by investors in New York          Abu Dhabi          Frankfurt           Kuala Lumpur

Your body is a misrepresentation          a statistically insignificant omission

The continued proliferation of data bodies within your body is a scientific uncertainty

What will become of us in the privatized bathtub of dawn

We must wait each morning to see which new techniques they will enact on our hair           our skin          our bones

Today they ask us to imagine our lovers

Today they ask us to imagine we are loving our lovers

Today they ask us to imagine we are alone with our lovers in a quiet room on the 17th floor of a Hyatt Hotel

Feel the white sheets on the freshly made bed

Feel your head hitting the tower of soft white pillows waiting for your body

Feel the body of your lover beneath you

To the side of you

On top of you

Tracing soft circles on your skin with their fingertips

Softly rubbing their lips along your arms your neck your forehead

And it’s impossible for us to do what they want us to do because in our exposed depleted state we have no strength          no interest          no desire

But they beat us and we try harder to masturbate for them and they film us

We fail and we try and we fail and we try and they like this so they promise us an extra ration of food if we come

They promise us a larger cage if we come

They promise us a window          a light          a pillow

But our broken bodies cannot become what the authoritative bodies want us to become

Our broken bodies cannot perform the humanity they ask us to perform

So they beat us

And when they take us out of the bathtub they line up our bodies on Lake Shore Drive

It’s a cold windy day and the water is splashing in from the lake and we are hungry

It’s a cold windy day and we must stand like this          naked          holding on to one another for warmth          on Lake Shore Drive          until the shipping containers come in from the docks

And when the shipping containers finally arrive they command us to run into the containers

They cram the shipping containers so full of bodies that we can only fit into them if we sit on each other’s laps          hold each other in our arms

And they seal the containers and tell us they will take us now to Mexico with whom we share a free trade agreement that allows for our bodies to be transported across North American borders without the onerous weight of a tariff

Daniel Borzutzky's last book, The Performance of Becoming Human, received the National Book Award for Poetry in 2016. Other books include In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (2015); Memories of my Overdevelopment (2015) and The Book of Interfering Bodies (2011). Recent poetry translations from Spanish include Galo Ghigliotto's Valdivia (2016) and Raúl Zurita's The Country of Planks (2015). He lives in Chicago.

This originally appeared on December 19, 2016