Ruby, the elephant, must have spent much of her time studying that cluster of boulders — a formation the color of pottery before it is fired, a formation known to us as the Papagos — beyond the bars of reinforced steel that surround her. The abundance of red on her canvas testifies to this. Often she must have considered the sky as well, her eyes almost too weak to discern the routine flash of the silver birds swooping up from Sky Harbor and across the absolute white canvas of desert light. She hefts the paintbrush as leisurely as a palm frond or flake of baled hay. What few trees remain she has stripped clean of leaves and twigs, so it pleases her simply to hold the brush this way in her trunk and dip deep into the paints her keeper has arranged off to one side. To cool her blood as she works, her ears wag almost continuously in a motion which reminds you of how Navajo rugs ripple when the dust is struck from them.

And perhaps as she globs on a splotch of cerulean medium blue, Ruby is remembering the balm of nightfall over the valley, how the decorative stones and asphalt in the zoo tried their best to repeat the day’s sizzle, how the small lizards radiated from their nooks into the failing light to search for crickets, how the puma and Bengal tiger ceased their panting when the temperature finally unleashed its hold, and how the drowsy orangutans and spectacled bears that had siesta-ed through the worst heat of the day awoke to rummage in their straw bedding for neglected scraps of fruit, anything to sustain them through the next blistering sleep.

Allen Braden of Puyallup, Washington, has poetry and prose forthcoming or appearing in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Poetry Northwest, South Carolina Review, Shenandoah, North Dakota Quarterly and the new edition of Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry. View his work online at the Floating Bridge Press and Switched-on Gutenberg websites.