Your Cart

  • Title
  • Copies
  • Price

The Elephants


Jeff Alessandrelli

Song(The Roadkill Collector)

(Sometimes I’m sad about all of it, sure.
And then before I go to bed at night
I’ll pair my work boots together,
tie their laces in tight
Merit Badge knots,

Boy Scout’s honor,
Bowline, Taut-line,
Clove Hitch, Sheet Bend.
And when I wake up late in the morning,
forgotten alarm, my husband’s aimless

hovering, the kids needing
attending, dog barking at the cat
eating the dog’s food,
fish tank dirty,
fish, perspiring,

needing feeding,
coffeemaker broken,
toaster corroded with lack,
cereal box empty,
until finally, agonizingly

unknotting the laces of my boots
and racing out the door,
it all doesn’t so seem so bad anymore.
I am alive, so I have to be an optimist.
I am alive, so I have to be—)

WAS BORN WITH NOTHING AND STILL HAVE MOST OF IT is what, left by someone wiser than the me, the weathered cardboard sign read at the scene of one of our pickups last week, a spilled-out, splayed-forth deer carcass. Hurry up and float, all you wretched little souls. Impossible to breathe when the dead are staring at me. And then we drive to the next one.

Because I love animals. Because the money is good and the work is steady. Because my wife is pregnant and my sister is pregnant and my mother is pregnant and my step-sister is pregnant. Because I’m a straight white cis-gendered male and it was all I could find. Because I’m transgendered and African-American and asexual and it was all I could find. Because I’m an illegal immigrant and they all look the other way, they forget the collective when the particular is more important. The evening’s runny imprint on the moon, drunken footprints covered by the blizzard’s sad torrent, blue, blue, blue, because the world is inherently politicized. Skewering a doe carcass off the ground, lumbering it unsteadily against your body before throwing it in the pickup truck’s flatbed and roping up the tarp. Politics. Because, speeding down Route 66, my mother struck a deer, flipped her car, died full of pain, and at the tender age of 8 I vowed revenge. Because I’m motivated by society’s needs and am a hard worker, willing to give what it takes. I took this job because death is the only law without flaw. We’re its caretakers, its precious pets.

I am thirty-three and working as a highway technician, one specializing in roadkill maintenance.

Collector of self-detonating meat piñatas that, spilling, growing, refuse the life of their deaths.

Valiant wanderer of the counties of Wayne and Chadron, staunch defender of a 36-mile strip of Highway 75, a 34-mile strip of Interstate 29 and a vaguely coordinated interstice of residential streets, avenues and thoroughfares therein.

Proud protector of interstitial vehicular transportation, the American sovereignty inherent to well-wrought asphalt, concrete and tar. Erstwhile harvester of stagnance, that bodily haven of so many deer, skunk, racoon, cats, opossum, deer, woodchuck, dogs, deer, coyotes, rabbits, frogs, pheasant, pigeon, deer, foxes, porcupine, deer.

Intrepid forager of all that is worth remembering in this blessed mortal coil that—

I—just…I’m sorry. This isn’t how I wanted to begin. It’s only that my job is complaint-driven, solely driven by complaints, and, winter-weather advisory, summer heatwave, neither, both, right now the complaints runneth rampant. And truth be told I swallow great infinities of sand every time I encounter another carcass. The sun tunes its rays to the endless chords of death’s shadow and me driving back and forth against that bluster, endless—I’m not complaining. Never dry, complaint is the privilege of a wishing well. Red, green and blue, a color tangible enough to—

I…I’m sorry. This isn’t what I wanted to say. This isn’t how I wanted to begin.

At night I dream of the ocean,
sea anemones and meandering
platypi, coordinate-void,
grid-desist. The water’s
ordinate fluidity
yet appearing anarchic,
without order.
Bubbles rising
to the top
before swaying,
phoric, into
Parallelity-lost in limn.
I dream the un-
patterns of Thresher sharks,
streetless Narwhals and so many Loligo.
Alarm-weak, surprise-
desist, free
of rigidity.

Some fatalistic movie set, predetermined, his motorcycle was 15 or so feet from his body, politely toppled, one of its blinkers still on, a piece of what might have been his handlebar quietly moored beside his bike.

He was nowhere to be found, at least not yet. A Thursday in late autumn, it’d been a sluggish morning all day long and now, nearing 3:00, this part of the highway was deserted, stasis between before and later.

Olivia turned off the pickup and, silently, we got out and approached. Instinctually we treated it as if it were just another fallen animal to assess and bag, haul out. Ending at his bike, there were a few yards of erraticism, skid marks that I hadn’t noticed before we got out of the truck; they traced a desperate signature, zigs and wobbles.

“Fuck” I said to myself under my breath when, pointing, still-silent, Olivia saw him. Successfully trying to avoid a collision he’d been catapulted a good twenty feet past the southbound embankment, landing where highway and nature cohabitate in plastic bottles and fallen leaves. Gargoyle of angle, his neck was grotesquely contorted, a cheap plastic. There was little blood but he was, clearly, dead.

Eyes cast downward, invisible, utility of performance instead of spectacle of show, the arrival of his face wasn’t there yet, a lonely fiction. Not a horror movie, not exactly, more ominous and less so. Countenance of someone looking languidly for something else, without urgency. Expressionless.

Turning to Olivia, I started to say, “Well, we’re going to have to”— and again she, silently, pointed, this time up the ravine that caped the embankment we stood at the bottom of. There, a single doe. Motionless, expressionless, it was staring down--not at us but simply down, out. If honesty is a sort of solitude, expectation is a raving crowd, one whose authenticity is never in question. The doe kept staring, not moving. We watched its unwatching.

After that—well, the rest of the story doesn’t exist yet. We radioed it in, we drove to Percival and hauled off a moose carcass whose entrails were blossoming into 75’s northbound lanes and Olivia went home and I went home and tomorrow we woke up and ate breakfast. The next morning she got to work late again, Olivia, but I didn’t want to be there either. So.

My life is a composition
dedicated to the execution
of one simple task,
promethean, easily
forgotten, arbitrary.

And truth be told
I’d rather World War III erupt
than step on a snail
while walking
to get my morning coffee.

Imagining what
it would be
like if you cut me
open and showed me
my beating heart

for the first time
and, dying,
knowing everything
I know,
I still didn’t care—

my life.

“Accomplishment will prove to be a journey, not a destination” is how 34th President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower put it in 1957, one year after construction began on the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Day by day accomplishing these streets of carrion, the deathly decay, I think about Ike’s quote a lot. Driving a portion of the Interstate’s 47,856 miles every day, reflecting on its veracity, there is neither journey nor destination to what I feel. Another mile always, pernicious—but moving in place, neither forward nor back. Necessarily devastative, low and blue, on some days do I pick up the animals or do the animals pick up me? Ha! Ha. Ha. My song grows long. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity” is how 34th President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower put it in 1946, one year after the war he was a five-star General in ended, having ended the lives of over 70 million people. Not a destination but a journey. That accomplishment.

A typical day depends on the season.
In spring’s summer we pick up
the ravagery of a lot of deer,
cats, dogs, racoons, skunks,
deer, pheasants and rabbits;

in fall’s winter a lot of deer,
coyotes, racoons, rabbits, deer,
the occasional moose or fox.
An antelope once.
On one of the busiest sections of I-29,

thrice a burdensome bear,
me having to deal with the rowdy
swirls of oncoming traffic,
Olivia having to sweat up elaborate
new curses to deal with the stenches,

size, the already-decay.
I—I hate people.
I hate noise, cars, traffic.
Upon arrival I hate
having to, sometimes, kill

what isn’t already dead, what
trespassed by the necessity of faith.
We pick up the ravage.
Sympathy is a body count ignored,
eyes too wide to see.

She’s been practicing.
She’d once closed her eyes
and walked down
the middle of the sleepy
cul-de-sac’d street
her mother lived on,
back and forth,
and now she’s experimenting
while driving on I-29’s straightaways,
sunny days, eyes clasped tight,
third eye open,
white light, black vise.
Guilt is an immoderately mortal behavior.
Moral. Bodies of flame sheathed
in gold everywhere
around her, she keeps

her eyes closed.
Dawdlingly the drive
into the listless of the sun.
Olivia’s practicing, waiting
sound and instinct,
million imperceptible motions
before the motion.

(No matter
the life,
society is public,

Feeling like
your own life
the only way

the living,
death’s secret
membership mandatory.

you’re haunting
while living it:
to be free.)

It’s a complaint-driven job, roadkill maintenance, purely. Complaints about snowflakes, the language beyond their blizzards, and how too much unintelligible whiteness caused this driver to swerve and hit a moose, that driver to brake late, pound direct into a deer. A complaint about the sun burning too brightly in a driver’s eyes and light’s logical conclusion two pulverized rabbits for us to come out, clean up, pick clear. Or a family of six in a mini-van; a Golden Retriever; an hour and a half later a silence still so thick it felt like humidity. The constant mathematics: X’s erraticism solving for Y’s deadly mistake, Z the variable fox, porcupine, skunk. Someone late to service at Lighthouse Church once maimed a lone coyote and, not bothering to stop, called us while still en Godly route. When Olivia and I arrived forty-five minutes later and, assessing the coyote’s blank, pain-cylinder eyes, were forced to put it out of its misery, the caller was assuredly still in His house, like all His good children. To a man with a Lord everything seems a test of faith, I suppose.

The beautiful pedagogy. I pick myself up at the end of the day like an aging gigolo picks up his money clip. Fatalistic beatitudes. Beautiful. This is only—I’m sorry. This isn’t what I intended, not at all.

of a moment’s afternoon
watching a cat
chase a squirrel
while a dog licks his paws,

Circumcised by the world
with a butter knife,
made buoyant
by a pair of wings
lacking feathers
and flight,

I am thirty-three
and work as a highway technician,
one specializing
in roadkill maintenance.

I’m good—
hours flexible,
pay consistent—
but good
be better.


There is no hope—

black cornfields,
in consecutive clumps
down I-27
piles of leaves
spraypainted black,

every few miles
a small cross
each driver
knows not
So many silly crosses---


Recent work by Jeff Alessandrelli appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Witness, Lit Hub and The American Poetry Review, among others. He also has an essay collection entitled The Man on High: Essays on skateboarding, hip hop, poetry and The Notorious B.I.G. coming out soon from the UK press Eyewear. You can find him online here: Jeff also directs the vinyl record-only poetry press Fonograf Editions, which has recently released albums by Eileen Myles, Rae Armantrout and Alice Notley:

This originally appeared on December 13, 2017