Oh man I love poems. I’ve always loved them.
Sometimes I wonder where predilection comes from, how it starts. Why, for instance, do I like poems but my sister can’t stand them (unless I’m reading her one of my own which I still think she can’t stand bless her heart). I mean my aunt is a writer, my mom is an actress and my dad is a real thoughtful conversationalist. Not to mention a dozen other relations who work with words in one way or the other. So I wonder if this melange of characteristics climbed my DNA ladder and settled onto the idiom rung in the only Kay Miller out there? I sort of need a patented answer but I like the idea of talent climbing that cool ribbon full of dots in vitro so I’ll stick with that theory for now.
Clearly wasn’t born a scientist.
But I rap in T stations late at night and randomly. I sing Les Miserables with the same voice, inflection and (i hope) passion as the original cast. I freestyle rapped with my great friend Pois at an uppity restaurant in the South End for a friend's birthday. Part of it is on tape. When I was young I used to sit in the bathroom and read the backs of whatever was in the cabinet at the time - usually shampoo or shaving cream labels. I’d read them out loud and pretend I was on TV. Then I’d reread them in poetry slam-esque ways, still sitting on the lid of the toilet, maybe trying to look up in the mirror as if speaking to an audience. Then I’d try to read the ingredients listed on the back of deodorant fluidly and with no messups. Cyclopentasiloxane was a tough one.
There’s something about words that thrill me.
Which is why I want to share with you a poem that thrilled me. Not at first, but after a read or two I fell in love with its echo. If you don’t like poetry, I get it. It’s like me trying to decipher politics. So I’ll say goodbye to you kind folk now. Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you.
For the rest of you, here is a poem by Barbara Ras titled, “Washing the Elephant”. I hope you enjoy.
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.