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The Elephants


Lara Durback

It’s an important day, last day of Venus Retrograde, jasmine blooming already, 1/31/14. The cycle of the year had lengthened or shortened. Jasmine blooming early. Everything blooming early. Polar Vortex elsewhere. Here paradise. Sun. Imbalance.

On the way to the meeting with M and K a man yells out to me as I bike past. I tell myself I will write it down. Cash/financial/money something. Cash-ready. Who was he saying it to. I can’t hear myself over K’s noise. I am not in his presence yet. The noise of being around someone with that much unresolved pain in them, that much submission, that much dialectic of a kind exterior with an inability to give up a bit of control beneath it, it is deafening when I approach him. Exuding righteousness and guilt, and a terror of not being good.

It was an omen. I’ll think of it. An omen for the meeting. Just remembered what the man said, “STORE-BOUGHT” was what he yelled so loud as I biked past.

I hold a sprig of jasmine as I ride my bike. I only smelled this jasmine in Oakland.

Another day I held a sprig of jasmine on the bus, all the way to work and cared for it, trying to find a way not to be miserable.

When he and I were going to the bookfair with all the others, or at least I was willing to pretend we were with others, →↑→←

I had a sprig of jasmine that day. Or maybe it was that conference day in another space I am confusing that with the bookfair. Because both events held the same energy and hope of being connected to a group of people with many of the same desires. →→↓←

It was less than a year ago but it feels like we had been together for at least 3 years. I was addicted to the jasmine growing near his stoop I was addicted to his stoop I liked sitting there watching the families and seeing the neighbors and thinking there could be some permanence of this house he owned among all our lofty dreams of leveling society and destruction I think those were our dreams they were probably my dreams I am scared to be alone↑↓↑→

and instead he was consuming me, while the jasmine went away, I forgot that the jasmine existed at all, I was imagining the future I could have with him but everything in my body said push him away, no future, there is no space for you there he is making all the decisions

he is packing the car,
he is unloading the emotions,
and you have to sit with them and he is so distressed.
he is pleasuring you as if he is trying to be the best at everything because he can’t stand being not the best at anything,
he puts nails in your furniture when you aren’t there
and tries to fix your window when you aren’t there
and you thought somehow the political would trump the emotional,
would trump the void that everyone has to fill,
but then you wondered if you were even on the same page politically,

because you were missing the Copwatch presentation and most of the presentations because you were making out in a field, in a lovely way,

and skipping through the streets drunkenly but then you missed many of the presentations.

And you realize you are conflating multiple days. And he knew about things like lawyers and had been in jail for 5 days once and had his camera smashed by cops during SF’s portion of the Rodney King riots when you were not yet in high school and this seemed like he knew everything, and that you wanted a partner that knew everything so you could level the world as it is and create a new society of many friends on couches,
and he would let you be whatever you wanted to be and never feel jealous but you would learn so much from him and you would lift one another up, because you were obviously brilliant in very many ways too and he would learn from you. And you had different levels of friends but the ones that overlapped were some of the best people.

But it became scary.

When you got lost in the woods, deep where there was no jasmine, bleeding pints out of your body, in extreme heat, and thinking you loved adventure but this was feminine blood that was so intense, he could never understand, and you were tough very tough but not today, today you were exhausted, and he called you princess which was the most painful insult you had ever heard. →↑↓↑←

You were not doing things like tie the knot or put the tent stakes in because everything you did he’d redo and you would storm away feeling enraged and nonexistent. And then he took this as you didn’t want to do anything for yourself, in the heat, in the dusty area of the woods where you were reminded of something else that made you feel asphyxiated as if there is no way out.

And you were infuriated that the had a right way to do everything in his view, and despite the context of a situation everything would have to be done this perfect way: the bathroom caulking that wouldn’t be in view would have to be smooth and the tent in a moderate climate would have to be pitched exactly correctly, and the car had to be parked exactly within the blue tape lines, and the flyer had to be remade 7 times, when you’d already made a flyer.

He had beautiful friends, realizing they were based upon distance, so many of them, who loved him so much, but he could not see them all, and you began to realize it only worked with distance from him. And many of his friends were stupid bros.

And you wondered if his political things were presented in a way to impress you, because it was working to get you, but perhaps not what he believed in the previous or next real life he was going to live. He could chameleon, put on a suit and do anything to a computer, and this was even more interesting, his parents were radicals too, he grew up going to protests. He knew a lot of sides that you didn’t know.

Then you felt politically unworthy yourself because why were you burying yourself into him, doing this again, when you thought the reasons you left the previous long relationship so painfully was to pursue the political love, the communistic feeling that you thought you could never do.

How many times did you have to sob about the commune to him.

And he wanted to fulfill this.

But no one can fulfill anything without others, no one can no what to do when work and money and exhaustion and terror and cops shoves everyone out of the plaza back into compartments.

And then there is dreams on the internet. People talking like it’s still there.

But you were no longer at the Biblioteca in the Murder Dubs at 6AM or 2AM holding it down with Aaron and Niko and Brigitte and Juliana and Omar and Crystal and Marianne and Alex while cops sat across the street constantly and stupidly in unmarked cars, and no longer cutting out paper hearts there at the Biblioteca after work with the little girl Jaime who spoke English though her parents did not and you were really not doing any of those things anymore, what did you do in those months except the Trayvon marches and the Bart Strike marches, and when you were there in the streets, though you may have been with him, you can’t remember and he disappeared from your consciousness. You remember Alana being tired and emotionally low but glowing or screaming up the freeway ramp with Kristin, and running into Zachary & Zoe who you only met once before now finally in the streets, and the moment with the hammer guy, though you were far back from the window of Flora, and the city falling apart around you, and Andrew in the middle of the street in dress shoes taking photos at the very end of the night, and masked ones on bikes zipping in front of you and your leg surging electrically into your hips as the cops charged behind you, the sensation alone paralyzing you, you are biking but your leg is not working
and putting your hands on the warm shaking body of the person hit by the canister and screaming medic, again, again, and more solid people carrying him to a car, and eyes that you recognize but no one else would, and someone filming your friend a little too close and you impulsively grab at them and the man starts threatening you.

Only that moment by the lake after you remember him, the one you were dating, he was skateboarding many feet in front of you by the lake while you biked with your other friends, and the action was far far away.

And seeing the jasmine reminded you of what will not always be there but will always come again, of what you will forget but then remember once again because your

________________ hippocampus (named after its resemblance to the seahorse, from the Greek hippos meaning "horse" and kampos meaning "sea monster") is a major component of the brains of humans and other vertebrates. It belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. /& amygdalae perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. Research indicates that, during fear conditioning, sensory stimuli reach the basolateral complexes of the amygdalae, particularly the lateral nuclei, where they form associations with memories of the stimuli. The association between stimuli and the aversive events they predict may be mediated by long-term potentiation, a sustained enhancement of signaling between affected neurons.[3] ______

in your brain chops and dulls things, and everything around us wants us to be peaceful and pursue monogamy & family as a structure placeholder and happiness as a high but I would take a little more longing and less attachment if it would mean that everyone could have a little more, could have spiderwebs attached to them that messaged friends when needed, a pulse to say I need you, not I’m trapped here in this relationship and I have no one else to turn to. I would take a little less of happiness if it means that my week is not always the same or there is no choice in my day. I destroy work and remember all the free baked jalapeno Tofu Yu I got for free at the squat and enjoyed at room temperature, and the many discarded pizzas from the Cheese Board in a stack that you had to peel apart, diligently brought to events by Ed in the ruler-suspenders.

And I am tired of being called purist by a money purist, by a person who is religious who doesn’t understand that government is religion, but I’ll take your gang and accept it, where is your gang, if you have a gang and not just a belief, I’ll take it, and we’ll take care of us and the others touching to us in the Venn diagram and you’ll take care of yours and we’ll go to Christiana or that island in Greece Niko is always talking about with all the caves, or a forest commune left over from the 60’s or we’ll just camp out in the middle of the goddamn city. Just go, I’m begging you I am sick of you

The jasmine grew in important places, wild and lush on bushes on gates, so sweet it would be caught and carried in the air and could smell it anywhere while biking.

The jasmine reminds me of the common beauty that has always been present in my years here.

The jasmine was in the little herb garden with the fruit trees in back of the café where I have an 8 year long relationship with Fred, Kirk, Alfredo, and Humberto who was deported (for now, we hope), and a long line of changing friends who worked together and mostly did not hate one another, probably because we could eat whatever we want and split tips evenly. Leah, Mike, Tawana, Molly, Kira, Tiff, Amber, Asede, Genet, Molly, Sarah, Janna, Jordann, Legs, A, Jules, Julie, Lauren, Karla, Mayra, Marcos, Erin, Diana, Jason, Mark, Jose, Crystal, Zakiya, Kim, Aracely, Olivia, Eddie, Kiara, Genesie, Judy…

And telling customers, we don’t need your Yelp, and we will never take credit cards. The jasmine was growing in the back along with the herbs and the lemon trees and the place where the chicken was smoked and where the servers smoked but a lot of the food is from Costco but it was healthy because it was not a restaurant but a clubhouse and the food was made with love and if they wanted to give us shit we didn’t have to take it.

The jasmine was blooming during the bookfair in March 2013.

The jasmine was on the gate of my house at E. 22nd St. where all those things happened around the incongruous beauty of the house, the large gate and the fake cameras installed by the landlord and the perception that everyone all the families in the house had more than they did

The jasmine reminded me of everything that I had when I thought I had nothing

The jasmine made me get thru a day that was impossible, whether too high or low, because I could return to that scent.

The jasmine reminds me that everything ends, but not really, because it reblooms in cycles. The jasmine reminds me that everything cannot be beautiful all the time, but can be beautiful again.

The jasmine has potential always, but its over-beauty, its being exposed to so much sun, often leads to it being fried and dried out and browned in large clusters.

Parts of the jasmine can be blooming while the other parts are fried. The jasmine is the whole vine.

The parts of the jasmine that are not blooming or are getting fried by the sun cannot be protected by the other parts of the jasmine. Each cluster must bloom autonomously when it can. It cannot control whether it blooms too soon. This year it had bloomed too soon.

I wish someone would tell me when I was starting to fry. Is it be better when they just let me fry. My other bodies are fine. Not this one. It will fall off and then I’ll have my other ones.

Lara Durback is a poet who has lived in Oakland, CA for 12 years. She has been tutoring writing in San Quentin and otherwise goes outside a lot and occasionally makes books. Her first book from Publication Studio Oakland is A Lizard, A Smashed Safe, and a Pillow.

This originally appeared on August 13, 2017