Le bel animal du roi
by Sue Chenette

La Première Girafe de France, fitted in Marseille
with a royal blue raincoat, was led on her long, swaying leash
to Paris, where Charles X received her, offering rose petals
in his kingly hand—a sweetness in which, it was reported,
she took great delight.  She had walked forty-one days,
with Hassan the groom, three milk cows, the servant Atir,
the translator Youssef, and the aging founder of the Paris zoo,  
Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire—

and all because Mehmet Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt,
had sent his son to help the Turks in the Peloponnese, and wished
to placate Charles, who supported the Greeks.  
Why not
the gift of a giraffe?
Mehmet’s friend, the French
consul general in Egypt (with a profitable side-line
in antiquities and exotic animals) advised.  
Et voila!
a Masai calf ferried by camel and felucca to Khartoum,
stabled there and fed, and when she’d grown,
removed to Alexandria and a ship with a straw-fringed
hole where the bridge roofed the hold, to accommodate
her neck and head on the sea voyage.  

What pleasure she brought to riotous crowds along the roads
when she set out that May in 1827—30,000 in Lyons!
What a gorgeous flurry of fashionable distraction
in Paris: giraffes on cups and saucers, paperweights and
hairbrushes, hair teased to heights
à la giraffe!  Flaubert,
still a boy in Rouen, came to see her.  Balzac
wrote a newspaper story.
                                        It was Saint-Hilaire
who had measured for her royal blue
back in Marseille (he had rheumatism, reason
in his knees, perhaps, to think of raincoats), and walked
with her for twenty and more kilometers each day
until they reached Paris, where she uncurled
her long black tongue to snatch a curious offering of petals.
“A sweet animal, and easy to lead,” he wrote
Natural History of Mammals, “the giraffe
knows its master, but without
showing any particular
attachment to him.”


Sue Chenette, a classical pianist as well as a poet, grew up
in northern Wisconsin and has lived in Toronto since 1972.  
She is an editor for Brick Books, and the author of two books
of poetry published by Guernica Editions.  
Slender Human
was published in 2009 and The Bones of His Being
in 2012.   

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 14, Number 1
(Spring 2019)

Copyright © 2019
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

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Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
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