All day I've been sneezing and my nose has been running again. One would think that the rain would have washed the pollen out of the air, but apparently not. The sun came out this afternoon, and it grew almost warm for a while. There are still some clouds about though, and it could still rain a bit more tonight and tomorrow. But the weather in the forecast looks very nice for the next couple of weeks. Not really cold and not really hot, and just a few days with a chance of showers. Perfect spring weather! How nice it would be to go out and do something, even if I kept sneezing and my nose kept running.
This evening there popped into my mind, or the world's delusion of my mind, the memory of some photos I took ages ago that I never got around to digitizing and which burned in the fire. Three in particular I recalled which I had taken on Bunker Hill, the old neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles which was then in the early stages of demolition for an urban renewal project. Well, the part south of Second Street was being demolished. The larger part to the north had already been destroyed for expansion of L.A.'s monstrous civic center and a freeway. I have no personal memory of that part of the neighborhood, though I've seen other people's pictures of it.
There were three of my photos in particular I recall. I've actually written about them before in an essay for a creative writing class a bit over twenty years after they were taken. My only copies of the essay burned in the fire too. One of the photos was of an old couple on Bunker Hill Avenue, a narrow street at the crest of the hill. The old man wearing a shabby fedora was sitting on a low retaining wall in front of his house reading a newspaper. The woman had a scarf over her head. I can't remember now if she was standing or sitting. The memory of the lost photo is now growing as dim as the memory of the day I took it.
The second photo was of another old man in a hat standing on the small plaza at the top of Angel's Flight, the block-long funicular which then ran along one side of the steep hill from Olive Street down to the business district on Hill Street where Third Street entered the tunnel under the hill. The man had his back turned, and I don't recall if any of his face was showing, but he was looking at the apartment building just north of the Third Street right-of-way, right next to the stairway people who didn't have the fare for the funicular used. The building was being demolished, parts of its front and side walls already turned to rubble, and the exposed rooms of the upper floors were showing. I wondered if perhaps the old man had lived in that building, and was remembering things that had happened there.
The third photo I recall was of one of my friends who had accompanied me that day. On our way to the hill we had stopped at a drug store across from Pershing Square, and he had impulsively bought a bottle of that bubble blowing soap kids used to get, with a little wand from which you blew bubbles. I snapped a photo of him just as he was blowing a large bubble, and it popped just as the shutter clicked. I expected the bubble wouldn't be in the photo, but the timing had been fortuitous and it was there. It was one of my favorite photos I had ever taken.
It occurs to me that I could now be older than the two old men in my photos, and I am surely at least almost as old as they were then. At that time they seemed like relics to me, like most of the buildings in the doomed neighborhood in which I found them. I could never have imagined then the old man I have myself become now. I don't recall noting such thoughts in the essay I wrote twenty some years later, either, though it was fraught with nostalgia. Going on forty I no longer thought of myself as young, but now I know I was. I takes decades to learn to appreciate the fleetness of time. That comes only when you see the the scraps of your memories fluttering away to oblivion, like so much refuse caught in the wind of its swift passage.
Washing the Elephant
by Barbara Ras
Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash
the elephant, begging the body to do it
with soap and water, a ladder, hands,
in tree shade big enough for the vast savannas
of your sadness, the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fueling
the windy spooling memory of elephant?
What if Father Quinn had said, “Of course you’ll recognize
your parents in Heaven,” instead of
“Being one with God will make your mother and father
pointless.” That was back when I was young enough
to love them absolutely though still fear for their place
in Heaven, imagining their souls like sponges full
of something resembling street water after rain.
Still my mother sent me every Saturday to confess,
to wring the sins out of my small baffled soul, and I made up lies
about lying, disobeying, chewing gum in church, to offer them
as carefully as I handed over the knotted handkerchief of coins
to the grocer when my mother sent me for a loaf of Wonder,
Land of Lakes, and two Camels.
If guilt is the damage of childhood, then eros is the fall of adolescence.
Or the fall begins there, and never ends, desire after desire parading
through a lifetime like the Ringling Brothers elephants
made to walk through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel
and down Thirty-fourth Street to the Garden.
So much of our desire like their bulky, shadowy walking
after midnight, exiled from the wild and destined
for a circus with its tawdry gaudiness, its unspoken
It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the few real loves-of-your-life, and how much of the rest—
the mad breaking-heart stickiness—falls away, slowly,
unnoticed, the way you lose your taste for things
like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place
for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines
and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder
to claim as your own, often one love-of-your-life
will appear in a dream, arriving
with the weight and certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash
the huge mysteriousness of what they meant, those memories
that have only memories to feed them, and only you to keep them clean.