On the care and feeding of elephants in living rooms

You have to pretend she’s not there, you see
It doesn’t matter that you can see her with your own two eyes
It doesn’t matter when elephant farts waft into your bedroom at night
It doesn’t matter — it doesn’t matter
What matters is that she doesn’t exist
And it is your job to maintain this fiction
Or you, not the elephant, will become the problem
Everyone will sweep into damage control
“Sie hallucinates sometimes, you should know that.
Like just before or after a seizure?
Olfactory hallucinations are common in epilepsy
Those elephant farts sie’s smelling, they can’t be real.”

“Sie’s a child, and children are known for
Their overactive imaginations
And even their tendency to exaggerate
If something makes a good story.
And an elephant in the house
Makes an awfully good story
Doesn’t it dear?
Isn’t it only a story?’

I may be meaning-deaf or meaning-blind
But I have an uncanny ability
To sense the presence of something
By the shape people create
When they look everywhere
Everywhere except where that thing is

And I know there are conversations
We will never have
Because you can’t even stand the thought of it
Never mind the real thing

And I’ve finally realized that’s okay
Not every elephant needs to be brought out in the open
Some elephants are shy and want to be anonymous
Some elephants would rather not be seen or spoken of
Some elephants would rather die than show their faces
And I’ve learned too late that pointing them out
Is not always in anyone’s best interests

When I was fifteen I realized I was not ready to be engaged
When I was nineteen I realized I was not ready for a child
When I was twenty-six my body started pushing me to have a child
When I was twenty-eight my periods stopped

I am thirty-four now, the same age as when my mother had me
I was a latecomer to our family
Unplanned, unexpected, but never unwanted
Fourteen years younger than the first

And I am thirty-four now, and I think that
If I wanted a child
If I had a partner
I could finally be a good parent
Or as good a parent as I could be
When I was younger I worried
That my anger problems
Would lead me to hurt a child
Not on purpose
But it happens
Because no parent is perfect
And I could not let it happen
So I refused to have a child

And what I have learned from the elephant
(Because she talks to me sometimes,
Because I’m the only one who acknowledges
Her presence in our lives.)
Is that parents are just human beings who made love

And the best parents love their children
And do their best to do right by them
But even the best parents do things
That they will regret the rest of their liives
And I see the shape of that regret
Every time I see the shape of the elephant
Traced out by the things nobody is willing to say

I will not name the elephant
I will not name her shape
I will only say that I forgive
Everything she represents
That I forgave both of you
A long time ago

When I realized
I could not have possibly done any better
I would have done things more terrible
Than anything you could have done
I know you have regrets
We all have regrets
I regret the things I put you through as well
But I love you

Elephant or no elephant
You’re my parents
And right now
With so little time left
That’s all that matters
I love you
I forgive you
I forgave you long ago
It doesn’t matter what I forgive you for
The past is the past
It can stay in the past
We don’t need to dredge it up
To declare our love authentic
And meaningful
And real

We are all ordinary human beings
Doing the best we can (most of us)
In a world that makes that hard to do
Parents are not gods, they’re just people
Who had children
And muddled through the best they could
(Most of them)
Please forgive me
If I have never made my own forgiveness clear
It’s real
It’s love
It’s here

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

Bone dry

I believe that I'm strong —
Resilient I say —
Like rubber you push me
I push back, away

I believe I can handle
What the world throws at me
But then the world throws it
Too fast at me for me to see

It hits me in the head
I fall and hit the ground
My mouth is full of mud
I cannot make a sound
I guess I overestimated
My resiliency
I'm bawling like a baby
There is no dignity

Nobody wants to see it
Everybody looks away
When they see someone
Crying in this way

It's not demure
It's not polite
It's not crocodile tears
It's not sweet
It's not cute
It's only primal

It's loss of control
It's “I want my mommy”
And “I want my daddy”
And “I want whatever gods I believe in”
And “I don't care, I want them NOW NOW NOW!” <stomp>
I told you there's no dignity here

But I can't ask for my dad to solve my problems
He has no power to stop his own death
I can't ask my mom
She's got to take care of my dad
Without dying herself

If grief is love then my heart is breaking at the seams
If grief is love then it is only echoed in bottomless screams
And fearing to cry for fear I'll never stop
And crying in the least dignified way
Wailing, screaming, bawling my eyes out

And people ask if it makes me feel better after a “good cry”
It just makes me feel weary and tired and bone, bone dry
So I try not to cry, to no avail this time
For I am going to wail until the end of time
And it won't be demure little upper-class tears
It's the screaming and shaking that plagued my childhood years

I know now it stops
I know my resilience is real
It's not just hubris or pride
I really can endure most anything

But sometimes
Like now
That's just not how it feels
And I wail till I'm bone dry
Bone dry




Which conversations will I regret not having, the most?

I often have things I want to tell people
And then when the person comes around
The subject has fled my mind

“If it’s important, it’ll come back to you”
And it does come back
But only when I’m alone again

“Write a note, then you’ll remember”
But that requires remembering
To write notes and to read them

Eventually, eventually, I remember
I remember at the right time
And I tell them what I wanted to say

It could be a little funny thing that happened
It could be an important personal reminiscence
It could be something beautiful I wanted to share

What scares me is you’re dying now

What if you die
Before I remember
All the things
I want to tell you?

What if you die
Before I remember
All the things
I want to ask you?

You have so much knowledge stored up
Not just idea-knowledge, practical knowledge
Knowledge of how things used to be
Knowledge of how to do things
And I don’t even know the right questions

You have layer after layer
Of beautiful memories
Of places like the Sierras
And the redwoods
And other places
That make people gasp or cry
From sheer beauty

And I know that, like me,
You store sensory memories
With many layers
Until they are so thick with beauty
You could burst

And all of that will be gone when you die
And how will I share those things with you?
And what if there’s something I wanted to say
And I don’t remember it until you’re dead?
Will it matter so much, that I never forget?
Will it matter so much, that it always haunts me?
Or will the only thing that matters
Be whether I said “I love you” enough?

I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you

I love you —
I could say it a hundred times
It would never be enough