Sadness overcame me when I learned of Duke’s death. Lillian and I only saw him once; in August of 2007, just a few days before he lost the first of his superb tusks. Ever since then we have been following the life and times of the old tusker as and when he made the news.
A recount of that first and only encounter was posted here.
The three hours we spent in the gentle giant’s presence and the certainty I felt then that we would not be seeing Duke again, inspired me to later write a poem about my impressions and thoughts at the time. Below I post an appropriate rewrite
I remember as we left Duke with emotional knots in our hearts, one of the askaris trumpeted and Duke raised his trunk as if in a salute – the combination of which caused a chill up my spine and a tear or two welling up. It is the same now as, with hearts filled to the brim with the blessing of having seen this icon of Kruger, I think back to those precious few hours.
It is time to bid you a final farewell, Dukie… We shall miss you.DukeThe draughts of your breath diverted the evening breeze
and the casual flapping of your ears started the whirlwind.
With the rumbling of your belly and your thrilling trumpet
you filled the skies with the stirring sounds of triumph.
You bugled the bold notes, letting the wild harmony ascend
across the vastness of the African savannah until,
insidiously, the strains decayed and melted away,
in a dying, dying diminuendo.
We fondly remember your glory days and those rare moments
when you touched us so deeply with your tolerant imminence.
We recall the last occasion your time-ravished head rested
on those massive pillars of ivory before they snapped!
The loss of those magnificent tusks was your final curtain.
With a standing ovation we bid you farewell, old friend,
and unashamedly we mourn your passing
as we applaud, we clap and we cry.
In your innocence you left no lasting signs in your wake.
Your brushstroke on the canvas of time was compassionate.
May we humans gain that sympathy from your vast shy heart
so that our passing too will leave only the kind mark
of patience and care on this abode we shared.
Let death not be accorded any significance so that we,
as old friends, can expect to continually meet
each other again and again.