Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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No Two Alike

By Margarita Engle

My daughter and I took a class at the zoo, where keepers taught us how to make popsicles for elephants by filling plastic buckets with water from a hose, then adding grapes, chunks of watermelon, and slices of apple.  As we froze the enormous popsicles in a Gargantuan freezer, I felt like a character in a fairy tale, preparing to meet a giant.

At the end of that hot summer day, after feeding carrots to giraffes and mealworms to rare birds, we returned to the elephant barn, where we learned how to warm the buckets with a hose, loosening the frozen delicacies.  We loaded the huge popsicles into a wheelbarrow and the zoo keepers delivered them to three gentle female Indian elephants separated from us by a moat.  Each elephant received her gift with jubilation, a delight reminiscent of dancing trees in an enchanted forest.

Personalities emerged.  One of the elephants performed a ponderous ballet atop her block of ice, freeing the slabs of fruit quickly.  Another rolled her popsicle into a pond, where it melted, releasing the edible delicacies slowly.  The third used her sensitive trunk to lift the entire bucket-shaped treat up onto the flat back of her respectfully bowed head. Carefully, she waited while the ice melted, cooling her face, fruit juice dripping toward her mouth, the solid pulp reserved for later.

Swaying as if consumed by wind, her hasty companions, with no fruit of their own left to treasure, observed her with envy, clearly wishing that they too had learned her patient art of delayed satisfaction.

Watching from beyond a fence, we, the mothers and children in that zoo class, were the ones who learned a parable of cause and effect, each of life's swift choices yielding its own sweet, natural result.

Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of Singing to Cuba (Arte Publico Press), Skywriting (Bantam), and The Poet-Slave (forthcoming from Henry Holt).  Short works appear in a wide variety of anthologies, chapbooks and journals such as Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, and Caribbean Writer.  Awards include a Cintas Fellowship and a San Diego Book Award.  Margarita lives in central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for a wilderness search-and-rescue dog training program.


Also by Margarita Engle

Top photo "Elephants" courtesy of Jay Neill.
Bottom elephant photo courtesy of

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