Sodom by the Sea

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block
First Place, August 2022
Judged by Doris Ferlehger

Fire was the god of Coney Island.
At night, the search lights on
the tower of Dreamland could
be seen for fifty miles at sea.

Topsy the elephant was a bit
rogue. The promoters billed her as
the first American born elephant,
but even that wasn’t true.

She did kill a man who gave her
a lit cigarette to eat, picked another
up with her trunk and threw him
after he jabbed her with a pitchfork.

Her handler got drunk, rode her
down the streets to the Police
station and she almost broke
the door in. That was the end.

In 1903, Edison’s men ran two
leads from the powerhouse. Topsy
would not comply when they tried
to lead her to the arena where
people paid a quarter to watch.

One of the first movies, Edison’s
men filmed her electrocution
with the newly patented motion
picture camera. For years, parents
mock- threatened their children
with being “Topsyed”.

* This was during the “Current Wars’ of the early 20th century, between AC and DC pitting Edison vs Tesla.

This finely-crafted, evocative, and memorable narrative poem, is written in contained quatrains for the first four stanzas that end in the powerful, foreboding short sentence. “That was the end.” The last two stanzas wisely switch to quintains that can barely contain the harsh reality that Topsy is to be electrocuted on film by Thomas Edison’s men. The title is provocative and fitting. Sodom, ancient city destroyed for it’s “wickedness” by God’s “rain of fire,” hints of the poem’s story of fiery destruction and retribution. The retribution by Topsy toward those who traumatized hurt her, and retribution against Topsy for her acts of violence that came from her trauma, is remarkably captured and set free in this poem. I appreciate that the Sodom of this poem, is ironically Coney Island, dreamland of beaches; and fire is “the god of Coney Island.: I admire the ironic tone, turns and twists. I was compelled to research Topsy’s terrible fate. --Doris Ferleger