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The Elephants


Jackie Clark

Jackie Clark

I work when I am at work. But I also don’t. I also look at the tip of the tree outside the window of my shared office. I look at the contrast of its summer green leaves against the building and blue spotted background. It doesn’t feel revolutionary to write here, except that it does. Except that to permit this side of my brain to be experienced feels like it is subversive. Except that it is not, subversive that is. It’s just thoughts. It’s just feelings. It’s just your body in a chair.

In yoga, there is a chant that we sometimes sing about contrast that feels particularly pertinent: asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya, which roughly translates to lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. Or rather, the teacher noted that this chant isn’t normally perceived as a contrast. That most yogis see it as a release, as a meditation upon or toward serenity. Which is nice he said, but isn’t the whole story. We can only chant for deliverance when we understand and contain its opposite. It is the contrast itself that enables unity.

I want to write something like this because I want to feel like I am living. I guess the insinuation is that I am not, living that is. I have done this trick before: St. John’s Wort and a journal. The journal is the proof of a lived life. But it’s complicated. Restlessness is a legitimate feeling. Why try to harness it? And yet we do.

It’s not so much that this isn’t what I thought I would be doing at this point in my life. It’s more that I didn’t actually imagine this point in my life. I just couldn’t “see” it 10 years ago and in a way, I still can’t really see it now. It’s not because I’m irresponsible I don’t think. It’s just that the future imagined seems to require desire, seems to suggest that something coveted sits behind a hypothetical door. I think most people assume that everyone has a hypothetical door, and maybe they do. But the practice of the hypothetical door seems like a betrayal to me. It is at the same time both unreal but containing the best of what we can imagine, a cruel dichotomy.

Last week the sound of a chain saw outside my shared office window was incessant. For a short while I believed that the chain saw was coming for the tree that I can just barely see out my window and I was immediately depressed. But instead of confirming whether or not this was actually true by pulling a chair up to the window and peering out I decide to just wallow in this very un-personal and most definitely unreasonable potential loss. Why wallow when you can confirm? Why draw parallels to the tree your neighbors recently cut down while you were away on vacation, a tree that wrapped your concrete space in mulberries and birds, whose absence leaves you markedly sad. Not so much because it was a tree that is now gone but because it was a part of your spatial landscape that helped you understand your borders, like a sense of touch but through your sense of sight.

I’ve lost every game of solitaire that I played this afternoon. It’s acutely bitter to have to reshuffle the deck. It’s such a boring defeat and yet, which is very unlike playing a game of solitaire when you are moderately stoned and it feels like a fun challenge, when it feels completely full and consuming and in general it is those two feelings that are missing from most of the day. Maybe that is an argument for getting stoned more often. I don’t know.

Having a lot of time to think isn’t always the best thing. Because of the nature of my work my brain isn’t often 100% occupied with work thoughts. Often there is a lot of empty space that accumulates. In that space I trace relationships. I think of bifurcated friendships. Ones that I am surely guilty of bifurcating. Ones where I don’t believe I am to blame. But it doesn’t matter. There is rarely a reckoning. I believe your lifestyle is problematic. You believe that I am lame in my play-it-safe approach. Each strategy leads to a different end is all. Sometimes I think at the end it won’t feel like it mattered at all. Except on those dark days, when I am sick to my stomach, believing the opposite to be true.

I wish there was a way to make all of these words add up to more. But really they are just ordinary words, written in an ordinary way. Just like how it’s cold in here. It feels exceptionally cold at first but then afterwards, just is. The feeling isn’t extreme any longer. It just becomes a fact.


asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya

Translation: From the unreal lead me to the real, from the darkness lead me to the light, from the dead lead me to the immortal

In the poem beginning “I want to write something like this,” “But it’s complicated” references the poem “I Don’t Even” by Alexander Chee, published by The Awl on June 13, 2014

Jackie Clark is the author of Aphoria (Brooklyn Arts Press) and, most recently, Sympathetic Nervous System (Bloof Books). Her writing has appeared recently in Gramma and Entropy, among other places. She curates Song of the Week for Coldfront Magazine and lives in Jersey City.

This originally appeared on December 3, 2017