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The Elephants


Kayla Eason

with memory

no one ever needs to say goodbye.


My body, fifty-four years old, found dead.

This is a retrospect, I guess, born in the kernel of memory, this memory:
my inner thigh shaped
to your palm.

You remember me? I’d say to you had we ever met again. I rush back to you.
Santi said, Dylana is dead. Murdered with a knife. It was real bad, real sad.

Dylana? Dylana Who? And I rush in.
Palm to thigh, and what else? You’ll wonder.

Swallow (he’d said)/ swallow, do it
—when a woman remember she don’t want it from him & thank god I’ve been cut
down the center so no longer entered because nothing about me no longer helpless.
I’m just opened.
A knife opened me. Someone opened me with a knife. Split lets air inflate
more honestly, lets sky into the body,
the sting feels set alive dead.


This is me speaking to you in your memory, in that kernel, the thigh: a reel now clicking
in and out
of focus for you. You remember some, not all. It was thirty years ago, and so you fill in the rest,
like this: we’re driving down a boulevard after midnight
and every light is green,
your arms feel the urge to pull back the reins but we just keep moving
through the dark
blue night, each green light blurry in achromatic drizzle, no other cars/
and the wonder,
when will it end, when will the streak end, when will you hit the break.

I am remembered in part this way: awaiting a red light that never comes. This feeling
is what you feel when you hear from Santi at the liquor store
off Whittier near the thirsty part of the river where you buy day’s second six pack
and he says Did you hear?

Hear what?

A person we know was killed.

Who? This ain’t strange because you know Santi keeps track of that thing,
the deaths of people
he knew or knows, like Jimmy from eight grade who in his thirties fell off a cruise ship
and was never found.

This stuff fascinates Santi, and it makes him very sad, and that’s why he keep track of it.
Santi can’t wrap his mind around growing old, and nothing brings him closer to understanding it
more than learning about people he knew or knew once alive becoming just memories.

And so he says a girl we knew from high school, Dylana…Dylana What? is dead.
She dead.
Found dead in Mexico City, cut from neck to groin
in a straight line, heart snipped out, genitals fucked-up, and in place of her heart,
some psycho put a smashed beer can. Ain’t that the worst part? A piece of trash.
Like there was no bigger meaning to it.

Jesus Fucking Christ, you say.

Dylana What? There it is: palm to thigh/
More: the girl skilled at knowing muscles real well,
and didn’t talk much otherwise. She could list muscles of the human body,
like triceps and biceps and traps and lats, those ones you work out sometimes so you know them.

And, suddenly, there was that time, too, over thirty years ago you drove
her home when you saw her walking when it was raining,
just being nice, and you got to talking,
stopped for burgers, and the sun set as you crossed a parking lot in east L.A.
& this part—her body didn’t fit well in her dress and that made you want to grab
the parts that we bulging, and her cheeks were dewy, her eyes
reflected the city’s muted oranges and golds and you drove on, small talk,
& through the corner of your eye you watched her lick her lips/
you slouched low as you drove, one hand on the steering wheel, chin up
because you felt handsome at that time in your life, and you were,
later chin rubbing against hers, against mine,
and all the good that stressed the deep red material of her dress
sculpted perfect
in your young man hands.

More and more you remember. More & more I get voice. My red
dress, yes, my body soft.

So you ask with a wounded tone, How you know she dead, Santi?

Well, Ariana (Santi’s niece) was babysat by a girl whose mom works as a seamstress
with Dylana’s sister, Crystal.

Jesus Fucking Christ, you say. What was she doing in Mexico?

Working the streets was my understanding of it.

You wouldn’t make shit for money in Mexico. Why would she be doing that there?
Doesn’t make no sense.


Things about me you think you know:

I learned not much a thing in high school. Didn’t even finish high school.

but I listened
to people, their voices,
the way they said things and what they called things. But one thing I did learn in high school
was how to skin a cat, and I learned all it’s muscles
and tributaries and saw where the heart was places in a silk web of veins.

Physiology class, junior year, 1991, back in L.A., Boyle Heights,
mom and Crystal and me, Dylana. I am Dylana, was her.

tibia tensor vastus lateralis palmaris longus soleus—
don’t they sound like music? or water?
Words I really studied, listened to my teacher, watched his lips move
when he said them, peeling flaps of grey flesh away, the muscles
reminded me of corn husks, & I got to imagining how they worked when the cat was living,
seemed magic to me: movement, breath, sensing.

Us girls lived in a nice enough apartment, yellow retro geometry with tall palms,
and a swimming pool that I never saw filled once. We shared one bedroom.
I remember the shower had so much black mold you couldn’t so much as graze the walls,
but the apartment’s back patio saw downtown glitter, saw the forever starless sky.

Mom and dad were from outskirts Fresno, a blueless place, hoarse with cow shit
and the barbed metal heat of slaughter houses,
a place where people got along hating well-off people and hating the government
for water shortages and weak avocados and frail almond trees,
a place where love was more a miracle thing than a thoughtful decision,
where the people were things upon which the land verged
this staying just as was. Mom came from Kansas where tarantulas jump
and grandpa and grandpa had fourteen kids
in a three-bedroom farm house and grandma started fights among her sons saying
he said you was not smart
as him and try harder why don ya, and mom’s brothers would punch
each other over it so often the sight of a bloody nose made mom feel at home,
which worked good for my dad.

Dad was part Sicilian which he clutched to. That is most what I remember of him,
his memory of his Nona snapping the neck of a chicken as he watched on a pink autumn day.
He recalled that bone breaking so often when he was drunk,
hi Nona, her nothing farm, her knot hands massaging blood
from the poultry’s veins and its body deflating like a balloon and dad, a boy, so curious
about the marvelous air that leaves us.

Fresno is where our family began, mom sixteen, dad massaging women
like he would dead birds. But a woman like that sometimes, to be kneaded deep like blood
were being moved around the caverns of track in our physiology.

Me first baby born. Crystal came second, year later. Miscarried baby 1 next, miscarried
baby 2 another year after. Dad left three years later. He rolled onto Bakersfield we think,
kneading who knows what.

That’s when we girls moved on to L.A. This where my baby sister and I got some school,
but we had to drop it, got jobs. Folded one day into the next, all the same sleepy
wishing to sleep more.

I didn’t go no where. I worked at a 24-hour Denny’s,
took old fries home at 5 am, rose only when the sun was getting tired.
Muscles ached, words and sounds
weren’t beautiful anymore, grease dyed the air/ those long nights watching L.A. tremble
beyond the windows, it’s darkness bloody, & me
feeling like I wasn’t breathing deep enough. Crystal married a teacher, started sewing full time,
moved out of the apartment.
Mom’s diabetes got bad, and she stopped working, closed the blinds more,
made the air heavy because she never moved.

Here I would crack my knuckles if I were telling this story to you in person,
the sound a tree branch snap, an inside itself pop,
plant air bubbles back in between my knuckles when I think about grooming
language &

it makes me that anxious, and ready to fight. High school was so long ago, but I barely
spoke, always sad I had soiled clothes to wear and my teeth were a hard yellow.

I tried to be good in school, and I learned
many beautiful words. I collected them and the words I collected pieced into a wind and laced
in and raised my skin. Words were vaulters on the track team, or sprinters, or triple jumpers
and skidded wildly. Words were people
I wasn’t. Words were in me, though,
same as muscles.


But you wonder why I died far from home.

1998 I met a man named David, and I thought I like him enough
to let him lead me into something that felt different from my life in L.A.
He was quiet like me, very shy. He was real good
at knowing which movies I would like. He went to the movies to help his English.
He did that for so many years that he became very smart
at knowing stories and how they worked.
When he told me I would like a movie called Practical Magic,
said I went about wishing I could change things
with a snap of my fingers and that movie would teach me to know better,
he was right. Fear and Loathing
in Las Vegas
, said movie was good and it was a book,
and even though the both of us couldn’t read well, we liked the idea of good books.
When we saw it we were so in awe
by how we could just tell words were working hard in the way we were seeing things
on the screen, and we felt adrenaline, I think,
realizing we were confined to anything.

That same month David’s brother was shot at school.
His brother was going to be a doctor, David had been sure of that, and he was so mad he beat
a homeless man on the street near to death. It was then that he needed to leave, be
somewhere new, and I followed because we you meet someone who seems to know you,
you don’t let that go. We set off for Mexico, where he had cousins living and working.

Through Tijuana, Ensenada, we hitch-hiked through blocks of city build-up beaded
into earth, through cacti silver desert, and the nearby sea
saltier and fishier.
To Hermosillo, flat and palm gridded at the feet of the Sierra Madre mountains,
which we followed, and the air thickened
and the green became greener to Guadalajara,
and into the sprawled, hysteric D.F., breathing like a repeating nicked record,
& too, altitude sick, ancient, angry, smog making matte rainbows over the immense city,
the distant mountains bright purple, and dazzling, the hugeness
as dazzling as being cut in half
and oxygen snapping cells in your eyes and mind.

You know how stories like this go. David showed me his anger, heavy, without apology.
Bloody noses, bruise on the cheek. Spanish I knew not too well. The hunger pains
were mean. I couldn’t get a doctor for the chlamydia. I couldn’t see no one
about my rotting molar. I got ate alive,
and maybe as well I should of.

All magic has parts of terror to it, even the magic of loving,
and a terror won’t like your arrogance no matter how honest you are about wanting
nothing too special, but wanting just enough.


I’ve got visions of life
and the images I seem to wear/
things like

silt from the rainy season, patina jungle color
painting the cobblestones in Coyoácon

still water moon, gauze, silver putty. Late August &
sweat one might make when dreaming of trees, naked jacarandas,

and woke to knowing nothing had changed in the night,
missing such and such, sweating in bed, viridian slits pasted on a lonely bedroom wall,
life behind the blinds, and swallowing my own break like swallowing a flood, &
explain to me the physics of rain,
or even how we reform bravery
after crying for a while, and my legs are so hot under the covers but I don’t move a single
melted muscle/
August night smell of that, the time to come out of summer’s withdrawal,
& this crafts regret, a sense of loss, one in the same, the body hot/the dull air in the tree,
the sun circling with purple trails of light through the shadows you always got
spotting the blank behind closed eyes.

The visions I wear dead I want to offer to you in this memory of me,
the kernel you got.
The girl you first kissed.
The girl quiet, smart in Science class. She there waiting in the rain,
and when she spoke, to you, a young man, well it was like some sort of poetry.

I wish I could let you know me the way I had wished to be loved, just once,
but we just drive,
you and me
through the rain. And I asked you to tell me how it’s gathered
and how it falls and before this gush of coolness, before the night came,
walking that parking lot, there was this vision:

grenadine sun
sinking behind palm
lace and the sky is baby soft.

and that’s when I thought that love is a miracle.
Why else would you think about me like this after I’m gone.


My last client I ever let pick me up
looked at me like he was offended, like my living made him sick.
In the hotel room, dead cockroaches curled like dry magnolia leaves. The walls were a green
velvet paper, and a dirty light flickered in the bathroom. August hung.
He told me white women don’t get wet
easy, that we too mighty. He told me white women aged the ugliest.
White women had voices that dragged.
I didn’t blame him much, the way I understood why the city had ate me.
& when he kissed me
I knew kissing me was same for him as a needle prick.
I knew touching me was same as sticking his fingers in a flame.

The night became a blur. I think he held his thumbs against my throat after he was done
try to swallow, do it,
and the room kind of churned like I was falling asleep real fast,
and I don’t remember fighting it, but a stirring
of relief to dream soon.


soon/is soon now/finally soon is now.

Will you tell me about rain, explain
how we fall, too, and let me give to you the pretty things I saw over time. Share words.

Your hand on my thigh, we were never too familiar, and maybe that’s why I love you.

The rivers of my seeing seems to keep going, if memory of dead people is
what is after/scenes stamped on our histories,
a Self-Portrait reel, lay-down-next-to-me & just-be…
listen to life outside, remembering such is impossible without eternity
and I am in your memory
and you were in mine,

so I live in you.

& this is how we hope dying works.

Kayla Eason is from Northern California. She writes, currently teaches, and recently earned an MFA from San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in Transfer Magazine, Vagabond City Lit, and the Redlands Review, for which she was awarded Best of Magazine.

This originally appeared on June 16, 2017