Monday, March 22, 2010

washing the elephant

wsshing the elephant, skirt, down, washing, love, pachyderm, Amber Schley Iragui, Jim Forest
photo on left taken by Jim Forest, diptych by Amber Schley Iragui



Tonight the elephants march under the East River. A herd of pachyderms trudge into Manhattan through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to Madison Square Gardens en route to their next circus venue. People line up along 34th street around midnight for a glimpse of the annual spectacle. Someday, when Ike is old enough, I will take him to see them. But it is raining tonight, and lightening sends shadows along the darkened wall of my bedroom.

Yesterday I read a poem in this week's New Yorker titled "Washing the Elephant." It was a longish poem, and it seemed disjointed at first. But it hung there in the air after I finished it, unraveling itself, and with it my heart. I remembered my own elephant, that is, an elephant of memory. A man who held the phone out the window of his tiny apartment to let me hear the thunder crack in a city on the other side of the globe. But I'll back up. Getting a divorce in your late twenties can leave you reeling, at least it left me so. The tidy force of my life suddenly swinging in all directions, it took three years to feel the earth solid under me again. Gone was the simplicity of romantic love, and in its place a frighteningly open place inhabited by all kinds of emotions and experiences. You doubt yourself after a divorce, and you don't want to make the same mistake again--and there is a lot of trial and error involved in the process of not making the same mistake again. By the time I met my now-husband, Charles, this process had left my heart a little pock-marked.

Charles once told me that women need a romantic story about meeting the love-of-their-life. I agree with him, although it annoyed me a little when he said it. But when you get divorced, and then you date for five years, and you fall in love with some of the people you date, you might get confused about how the story is going to go, and whether you know what love is anymore. You might start imagining up a story, a brilliant story full of twinkling lights and meaningful glances. And after awhile that story is a good deal more compelling than the people you are dating.

Which brings me back to why my heart was unraveling there in my living room. Because what I imagined for myself was not how things turned out. Not the way I'd imagined it when I was 24 and getting married to my college boyfriend, not when I was 28 and divorcing that same boy, not when I was 32 and tiring of the New York dating scene. None of those grand stories panned out. Instead I have this everyday reality: fragile, tenacious, beautiful, conflicted. And I have my memories, which on occasion may need some washing.

W A S H I N G   T H E   E L E P H A N T

by Barbara Ras

It isn't 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 fuelling
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 send 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 though 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
pathos.

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, they way you lose your taste for things
like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place
for the ones who have etched themselves 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.

{ P O E T R Y   W E D N E S D A Y }

8 comments:

Kris Livovich said...

Your honesty in the preface of the poem is what made me read and re-read this until I feel I almost understand it. I'm so glad you are a part of this poetry thing - what wonderful and interesting people I am 'meeting'.

Molly Sabourin said...

Just gorgeous, Amber. I appreciate very much your description of a heart stripped away of pretense, assumptions and idealistic notions of love. I absorb life, the "every day reality" of it, much better when I cease to make judgements about others (my spouse and children included), to fret about the "what ifs", or try to manipulate the future. I needed that reminder today. Thank you!

Emily Lorelli said...

Amber -- I don't know if it was your preface to the poem or the poem itself (probably both), but as I read it, I began to cry, which means I must read it again. I doubt there are many people, especially women, who regardless of their experiences would not feel the truths of this poem. Thank you for sharing it today.

Jenny said...

Amber,

So beautiful, so surprising, so full of hope. What an honor it has been to share in your journey. Perhaps one of these years, I'll join you for the elephant parade.

Beth said...

Amber, your writing is also beautiful. It is a pleasure to read and I truly loved this poem: beautiful and sad. I especially liked the final paragraph. Thank you!

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, they way you lose your taste for things
like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place
for the ones who have etched themselves 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.

Julia said...

This poem is so interesting and your introduction makes me want to boast about how long I've known you, and how I was privileged to witness your interesting life. I was thinking recently about how safe marriage feels, how easy it is to take that feeling of safety for granted, and how "frighteningly open" the world can feel when you are single. I always felt as if you and I swapped places a few times in that regard.

amber said...

Thank you all so much for your kind words! I am so enjoying being part of this poetry wednesday!

Rena said...

Amber, I just happened on your blog today! And I LOVE your openess and honesty. Thank you for sharing so other can see there is healing. I am going to mention you on my blog today for Nominated Honesty Blogs!!

All the best,
Rena
www.tincangypsies.com