When Hannibal marched elephants to Rome
He said goodbye to Carthage hearth and home
And burned a bowl of incense on an altar
To guarantee safe crossing at Gibraltar.
Of course, the pachyderms got wet in Spain
Because their route fell mainly on the plain;
They lumbered up and over the Sierra
(No time for leisure on the Riviera),
Then climbed above the Alpine spruce and heather
With thirty-seven elephants in tether:
Savannah creatures hauled through howling gales
On narrow, rocky, icy, cliff-edge trails,
Their trunks and floppy ears above the snow
Waved witness, thirty-seven in a row.
Although eight thousand men expired en route,
The army did not lose a single brute.
That legendary version of the story,
Claim researchers, is far too laudatory:
They say no elephants, or just a few,
Survived the deadly passes and got through;
And if they did, they faded out of history,
Their fate in northern Italy a mystery.
Unhappy with such versions told by others,
I add my own; for if I had my druthers,
I’d only let a happy end suffice
After those passes filled with snow and ice:
All thirty-seven elephants come down
Into a valley where they find a town
Where no one’s wielding swords or slinging spears,
And there in Lombardy they live for years
While their descendants, thriving near Torino,
Give veni vidi vici up for vino.
Instead of crushing heads or hauling loot,
For generations they squish vintage fruit,
Their ponderously plodding feet stained purple,
While villagers are happy just to slurp all
The fruits of others’ elephantine labors
And lift full cups to all their friends and neighbors.