Thursday, April 28, 2011

Barbara Ras - Washing the Elephant

Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash

the elephant, begging the body to do it

with soap and water, a ladder, hands,

in tree shade big enough for the vast savannas

of your sadness, the strangler fig of your guilt,

the cratered full moon’s light fueling

the windy spooling memory of elephant?

What if Father Quinn had said, “Of course you’ll recognize

your parents in Heaven,” instead of

“Being one with God will make your mother and father

pointless.” That was back when I was young enough

to love them absolutely though still fear for their place

in Heaven, imagining their souls like sponges full

of something resembling street water after rain.

Still my mother sent me every Saturday to confess,

to wring the sins out of my small baffled soul, and I made up lies

about lying, disobeying, chewing gum in church, to offer them

as carefully as I handed over the knotted handkerchief of coins

to the grocer when my mother sent me for a loaf of Wonder,

Land of Lakes, and two Camels.

If guilt is the damage of childhood, then eros is the fall of adolescence.

Or the fall begins there, and never ends, desire after desire parading

through a lifetime like the Ringling Brothers elephants

made to walk through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel

and down Thirty-fourth Street to the Garden.

So much of our desire like their bulky, shadowy walking

after midnight, exiled from the wild and destined

for a circus with its tawdry gaudiness, its unspoken


It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,

the few real loves-of-your-life, and how much of the rest—

the mad breaking-heart stickiness—falls away, slowly,

unnoticed, the way you lose your taste for things

like popsicles unthinkingly.

And though dailiness may have no place

for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines

and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder

to claim as your own, often one love-of-your-life

will appear in a dream, arriving

with the weight and certitude of an elephant,

and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash

the huge mysteriousness of what they meant, those memories

that have only memories to feed them, and only you to keep them clean.

If You Forget Me - Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Knowing You're in Trouble

I know I'm in trouble when I don't write in a journal or a blog or random pieces of paper in church.

I know I'm in trouble when I find myself thinking... uh-oh! I should be writing this down.

I know I'm in trouble when I hide even from myself.

I know I'm in trouble when a friend asks, "Do you love him?" and you don't know how to begin to know how to answer that question.

How can I know so little about what love should feel like? I know it's not passion, because passion means self annihilation. I know it's something to do with respect and appreciation and gratefulness that I can be small and vulnerable and loving and he will be there to feel it and be grateful in return.

The truth is, in the absence of family pattern, I don't know much about love. I know it's a verb not a noun, and that I haven't been doing it much lately. As a friend said once, it doesn't help to do jumping jacks to get a blind man's attention. For the same reason, I just haven't been doing much to get my work-addict husband's attention. His love seems to have nothing to do with me or with how connected I feel. He wakes up and loves me, goes to bed and loves me. In between, I don't think I much enter his thoughts.

And me? I just feel ... like I don't rate. I feel thin and tensile and hollow. High-pitched and vibrating before the break comes.

I'm far away and heading farther unless I see that he sees how far I am. And cares.

A pause for a moment while I read this last line to be sure I'm still talking about who I'm talking about. All of this has echoes of childhood, for sure.

I want to feel I have a partner who's working some fair percent as hard as I am. Who sees and feels that far away is a problem. I want to stop doing jumping jacks and hand over the pencil to keep the to-do list.

I want someone with spirit and imagination and engagement with the non-business world. Someone with friends who love him and commitments to those he loves.

For myself, I want to stop keeping a tally of what I do vs. all that he doesn't. I want to love him more than resent him. I want to let go of SOMETHING if it will mean feeling closer and more in love.

Who writes poems about this stuff?

A Tomb Is No Place to Stay - Richard Gilbert

A tomb is no place to stay,
Be it a cave in the Judaean hills
Or the dark cavern of the spirit.

A tomb is no place to stay
When fresh grass rolls away the stone of winter cold
And valiant flowers burst their way to warmth and light.

A tomb is no place to stay
When each morning announces our reprieve,
And we know we are granted yet another day of living.

A tomb is no place to stay
When life laughs a welcome
To hearts that have been away too long.