A Hippo Story

Patrick M


Hippos are a hefty breed;
their name is Greek for “River Steed.”
Third largest of the land-bound mammals
(after rhinos; besting camels),
they are not known for “grace” or “poise”,
and, “walking”, make a “waddle noise”.

But once there was a Hippo Princess,
who, according to consensus,
transcended the hippo norms,
re: declining to conform.

Where the paper’s called papyrus
(actually, south of there), lived Iris,
And Iris wished that she one day
might dance that fragile dance: ballet.

This dream met with derisive sneers,
from family, passers-by, and peers.
Absurd one of so many pounds
could manage to get off the ground,
Much less make a graceful pas
(at least so thought hippo bourgeois).

Her critics all remarked upon
young Iris’ lack of ballon
(ballon describes, the reader knows,
a dancer’s gift for mid-air pose):

Ballon? Puh-lease! Rather ballast,
would suit that member of the palace.”
“It is an issue of great gravity,”
observed one hippo wag Dick Cavettly…

…and other jabs meant to berate
one of such enormous weight
(which is not to say they weighed less;
so why they did this, who can guess?).
We don’t condone, so don’t inquire us,
why they were so mean to Iris,
But, buzz and gossip (which tend to surround
those connected to a crown)
began a slow, incessant drone
that Iris would embarrass the throne.

Iris ignored them with the tenacity
of a youngish David Cassidy,
but rather than stop this insularity,
her family feared unpopularity,
thinking, “All this anti-Iris
thought might make them not admire us.
When the subjects look on royalty,
they should predicate their loyalty.
instead, they jibe, name-call, and mock.
Iris is a laughing-stock.”

And so amid all this derision,
her parents came to a decision.

Her father, King Hippo Regius,
said to Iris, “Come and see us.”
(Here, using the Royal We,
in lieu of first familiar “me.”)

The king of hippopotami
looked at his daughter, sighed a sigh
that passed through teeth of white enamels:
“Ballet is not for three-ton mammals.
Ballet is graceful, you are not;
please be content with what you’ve got.
We just don’t have the stuff it takes,
living in Sub-Sahara lakes.
This kind of thing is just not seen
amongst the nocturnal porcine.
You should respect the differénces
and the hegemonic fences
Between us and those far away
from us who like to dance ballet.”

Dancing hippos! What anomaly!”
Iris looked at her dad calmly,
politely smiled and conceded,
but planned to proceed, unimpeded.

Next night, inspecting her max headroom,
she was called to her mother’s bedroom.

Her mother, Hippo Chondric, queen,
was reading health care magazines.
(Her hippothal’mus, it was said,
confined her majesty to bed.
Her diet, too, was all sans-glutens,
and she had outlawed toast and croutons.)

She said to Iris, “Ballet dancing
deals far too much with prancing,
not to mention mincing leaps;
we have an image to upkeep.
A hippo’s skin secretes pink oil.
Our kind belongs in mud and soil.
It’s not the right pastime for hippos,
’least not sans suction, comma, lipo.
Next thing you’ll want some Ugg brand boots,
eschewing reeds and watershoots.
Please stop acting so dramatic.
Be a little more pragmatic.
Try to act your weight and age;
you’re fat, and that’s not spelled P-H.”

Iris smiled resolutely,
nodding at her mother mutely,
but the princess stayed determined
to close her ears and stop this sermon
(a common habit, reasons stemming
from blocking water, during swimming).

And late that night when her clock said “Three”
Iris stole outside where she
strapped on tights and a tutu,
like she thought Mark Morris might do.

She took a breath and a running start
and leapt straight up with all her heart!

(But only leapt an inch, if that,
due to her natural hippo fat.)

Next, she tried balancing straight up
but could not maintain her weight up;
she fell, but rose, brushed off the straw,
and attempted an entrechat.

But gravity pulled down her weight,
Which, pound-wise, was 6,008.

At length, she tried an attitude
(an arabesque, right-angle skewed),
but her failure in this was thorough.
She sat; her brow began to furrow,
(which is common, by the by,
with most hippos about to cry).
“I guess they’re right,” she said, dismayed,
“I wasn’t meant to dance ballet.”

And so, her aspirations faded.
As tears welled up, she said she hated
Who she was, her stupid dreams.
She tugged some threads from her tutu seams.

“Iris,” a voice behind her quacked,
“It’s me, the bird who’s on your back.”

Iris turned and smiled sadly
at the bird (whose name was Bradley).
Brad, it should be noted, was
not mentioned here before because
He’d just returned from a local college
attaining media theory knowledge.
(The authors, mark well, here, refused,
a “hippo-campus” pun.) Brad mused,

“Sure as language is a virus,
I believe in you, dear Iris,
I’ve been reading some McLuhan;
I know what’s wrong with what you’re doin’.
From many lectures rife with tedium,
I’ve learned that ‘Message equals Medium.’

Just think, and I don’t mean to pester,
’long lines of Williams, comma, Esther.
You can be a ballerina,”
said her deus ex machina,
“I mean the kind that dances turf-less;
that is, one below the surface.”

Two days later it was announced
that anyone who’s who, who counts,
should wait till six, then leave their home,
and all meet at the hippo-drome.

Everyone there could be seen,
including a nervous king and queen.

Bradley came out, looking cheery,
and warmed up the crowd with media theory,
defining terms such as “tetrad”
and “global village,” and then Brad
said, “Now, then, may I introduce
this eve’s mellifluous danseuse.”

And then the curtains sort of shrank.
Behind them was a giant tank
filled with waters dark and turbid;
then the sediment was disturbèd,
revealing there: a plucky hippo,
dancing like a just-lit Zippo.

The others, who had not, per se,
ever seen a grand jeté,
were struck by the charm of her adagio,
like Dorothy Arnold with Joe DiMaggio…

…remarking on the strict precisions
of the five distinct positions
of her feet, the fifth one being
the hardest to do. (Brad was seeing
To the visual/acoustic space
’twixt crowd and Iris, just in case
it might make a good thesis paper.)
Iris danced like water vapor,
by which we mean the way that steam
wisps like an evanescent dream.

The audience, who’d come to flout,
were transfixed, each and each, throughout.

Iris did a quick plié,
a saut-de-chat, a fouetté.
As Brad examined figure plus ground,
Iris continued to leap plus bound,
and thus she swam and arabesqued,
and was quite Baryshnikovesque.

The crowd was hushed; then, as if cued,
fulmination (claps) ensued.

Everyone began to shout.
Iris, to keep water out
had pressed her ears flat on her head,
and did not hear the things they said.

What did they say? “She is a flower!”
“Butterfly!” “A vernal shower!”
Their planned harangues and words satiric
morphed instead to panegyrics.

The King said proudly, “That’s our daughter,
Iris, dancing in the water.”

“I’ve never been so moved,” the Queen
announced, then tended to her spleen.

And all the hippo-critics had
drawn smilies on their legal pads,
swearing a hippo-critic oath
that none had seen a thing of both
such delicate grace and fragile mood,
or elegance, or pulchritude.

At last, young Iris, slightly wet,
performed a final pirouette,
emerged and smiled modestly
and took a bow and quietly
walked off the stage, shook Bradley’s wing,
and went on home. And here’s the thing:

This is not some allegory,
it’s just a simple hippo story.
But if you see flecks of a moral,
who are we to try to quarrel?

We read, interpret, then it seems,
we use these Lincoln Logs for dreams:
President or Astronaut
or Ballerina: matters not.

All stories are hippotenuses
for your life to think up uses.
So, if your life seems at its direst,
and it helps to think of Iris,
go ahead, because the fact is
thinking’s how she won (plus practice).

What you’ve been’s outlawed (like toast)
It’s what you’ll be that weighs the most.