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The Elephants

Five Poems

Jen Currin

Gingko Tree

The deaths are often sooner
than expected.
Did we think
people had unlimited...?
my toe in weather,
faint up to heaven.
They never guessed
the cloud--
scholars waiting.
Raining cold--I quickly mothered
my way out of there,
into friends' apartments
of incense and coffee,
alley views. Awareness
of tenderness, someone's good
luck. Someone gathering
bottles. And now the clanking
of the train.

On Myrtle Beach

Too much logic--that's why
the little children can see ghosts
and we can't. Lying in bed hearing
everyone come home.

We see ghosts like little children
on Myrtle Beach where they pick up shells.
Everyone come home.
The spiritual center is closed for renovations.

On Myrtle Beach we pick through skulls
and whisper, "Sister, cousin, father,
the spiritual center is closed. Rejuvenation..."
There are shells shaped like cat ears, orange and charcoal.

We whisper to a sister. A cousin becomes father
becomes grandmother becomes dust. Sand in shoes.
There are shells on the shrine and oranges. Charcoal cats.
"I live on vegetables and poetry,"

grandmother said, sipping dust, slipping on sand.
The spiritual center refuses a museum
to live instead on vegetables and poetry,
exhaling the word "emerald."

The spiritual center is approached by a museum
with photos of a saint's hands and feet
and exhalations of emerald.
They did not record any wounds or dogmas.

With photos of a saint's hands and feet
we can't lie in bed hearing
what they chose not to record: wounds and dogmas,
too much logic and no whys.

To Renunciation

Stone. Rain. Apple. Moon.
One side of my body is cold;
the other is fire.

I dress for the door.
A handkerchief, a runny nose.
I dress the body that is cold.

Wait on the steps
of the yoga school
to meet an old teacher.
My knee aches; I don't own a shawl.

She toddles up, wraps
something paisley
around my shoulders.

We never do enter
the school, walk instead
to the hardware store,
buy a baking pan
large enough for
the night's feast.

It's a holiday no one understands.
My people quit
celebrating it years ago.

"Why would you want
the door closed
on the sound of the fountain?"
the teacher asks.

She is untangling Christmas
lights in the back of the store.

"The sound of writing water
has always bothered me," I confess.

The teacher laughs
and clicks on the lights.
They pulse around her.


"The tiger yogi
who can sit
with a tiger--
some call her Mother.
Now that's a new year."

I had wondered
when we would
get to

All this sadness
comes from the shock
of loss.

I interviewed scholars
for eight hours,
studied very intensely
and all its surroundings.

When my aunt died
I delved further
into impermanence
by moving in
with a renunciate
in a suburban cave.

She chided me daily
about my mild addictions.
There was no coffee;
my head always hurt.

She talked a quiet life
of eating vegetables
but kept all the sugar
for herself.

I was lucky all the same.
My sadness slowly widened.
I started a radio show
broadcast from a friend's boat
called (I think) Lucid

It was all volunteer
and we had never been so happy.

Renew Relations

prepped for the tree line
the final exam
all the poems in tatters
in the trees
her prescient chapbook
undressing while walking backwards
complex fox
finally admitting disappointment
23 years, ragged gift
of a dictionary
stacks of holy people's pictures
on her desk
walking now with only a slight limp
dawn & schoolchildren again
spray paint the wall
with slogans
we are asked for a hammer or ice pick
anything to break through

Jen Currin lives on unceded Coast Salish territories (New Westminster, Canada), where she teaches creative writing and English at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Jen has published four books of poetry, including The Inquisition Yours, which won the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry in 2011; and School, a finalist for three awards. Jen's first collection of stories, Hider/Seeker, will be out from Anvil Press in 2018.

This originally appeared on September 3, 2017