Washing the Elephant
By Barbara Ras
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 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 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.
That's probably my favorite poem New Yorker has published this year. Ras's upcoming book is The Last Skin.
I went with my mother today to look at the page proofs for Adam's Bar Mitzvah photo album, which look terrific -- we're going to make a couple of minor changes and change backgrounds on a couple of pages, then they'll get bound and I'll finally have the book. This ended up taking longer than I thought it would, mostly because we did a lot of chatting with the photographer about digital media and stuff, and when we got home I made her a fan page on Facebook, which was fun because I've never made a page like that on Facebook before.
Late afternoon involved unexciting things like laundry, being shown far too many Rickrolls by Daniel, discussing geometry with Adam (don't ask me what we talked about, all I know is that sines and cosines were involved as well as some proclamations about the uselessness of the quadratic equation in everyday life), then jacket potatoes with veggie chili for dinner and A Room With a View, which I got in the mood to watch...Helena Bonham Carter when she was young enough to have played Alice in the new Alice in Wonderland. I never get tired of that movie, its brilliant cast or its soundtrack or the English and Italian landscapes!
Part of the exhibit discussed the use of GPS to track animal populations like brown bears in British Columbia and Magellanic penguins in the Falkland Islands.
A comparison of hunting for a geocache and its predecessor, the letterbox (the one in the photo is the original site in Dartmoor, England).
A model of Seattle's Space Needle, whose location had to be corrected on maps after NOAA satellites discovered that it was 312 feet southwest of where it had been reported to be.
Researchers set up a survey station on Mount Everest that sent information indicating that Everest is still rising and moving northeast as the Indian subcontinent slides under Asia.
This is a model of a GPS IIR satellite, with antennae that identify nuclear radiation as well as antennae that send and receive information from the ground.
A panel explaining that Big Brother is not watching you, exactly, and the U.S. economy depends on GPS for commercial purposes.