Elena Banfield ≈ Two Poems





Nana began to leave the stove on and let strangers into the building.
To me, the loss of memory was neither a crime nor an aberration,
but the natural order of life.
The human chronology as I have witnessed three times over is this:
birth, growing, living, forgetting, dying.
As your skin wrinkles and your stature shortens,
so too is your brain pulled by gravity and compressed
by the weight of passing time.
So too does it become covered in dust and its webbing thins
like your graying hair, memories slipping through its porous cortex—
except for the ones embedded when you had taut skin, before the minutes of the day became weighty raindrops that eroded lobes and shorted out synapses.
. . . She will still sing “Oyfn Prepetshik” as she learned on a cold plain before she stood on the threshold of America.
. . . He will remember the creaking springs of the bed he shared with his brothers in the Brooklyn tenement.
. . . She will still see in vivid colour the dress she wore the day she met her second husband.
. . . Yet they will look at us with watery eyes and they will not know us, just as we will look at the yet unborn with the same searching.
I speak calmly but as I look at the photo of my Mother embarrassed in the change room trying on her lavender wedding dress gathered at the small of the back,
her hair is redder and longer and I believe she has not aged for years.
Except last time she was here her head shook more than before, but she says its nothing to worry about so I won’t.
If I do I’m squeezed by something of an unknown and terrible strength that makes me feel like a child who does not yet know how to speak.

Nana died at 3:50 PST. I was drinking vodka lemonade 3 hours into the Eastern future
and watching the Scotiabank building turn into a pinky copper index finger as the sun set.
I whispered kaddish transliterated for my Anglican grandmother
and I did not speak of her death to the company I kept.
In a few hours the moon would rise covered in rust inches from the CN Tower
and move at an alarming pace across the sky as if to demonstrate that it was indeed true, what I’d been thinking since that night two weeks ago
when I examined the thin red fault line of a changed vein,
that the minutes and their Russian-doll half minutes and quarter minutes within them have been moving forward all twenty-seven years
and they have exerted their influence on me.
I knew this before but I did not know this.

As we walked under the train bridge between Dufferin and Gladstone,
I told you that I felt myself newly and slowly creeping towards some animal truth,
and you posed the classic question to me of the arbitrary measurement of time
and its existence beyond the construction.
But whether you stretch or shrink the hour into a different length
and call the hourglass by a different name,
its grains of sand will still slide through its cinched waist undeterred by your philosophy, and once they’ve all piled in a little peaked dune
the sun will nonetheless be inches closer to setting.



the state of things at the outset


I am thinking about how nice a thing it is
for strangers to talk honestly to each other
I am also thinking about the violence of fate
it twists me up at the juncture between my throat and my chest
that fortune is so fragile
that I have had the blunt luck
to have been living on one side when the wall went up
but with just the death of one butterfly
I could have been a different woman
either this strips the meaning from every circumstance
or coats it in thick divinity
I will not throw my weight behind either
having understood lately
that epiphanies are cerebral alchemy
and seeing for myself the flimsy scrim of faith
and also the hollow gourd of rationalism
I will not deny you whatever meaty thing
gives you fortitude
tear it from the bone with your teeth
I too am not yet ready
to resign myself to an answered question

I know one day I am going to understand something
just like I think we all will
but at the same time I know it is possible
this life will never make sense to me
just as I know
it is likely the world is not changing for the better
I wonder if there truly is a current in the air
or if this percolation is my singular chemistry
are we on the verge of something
that will crack the breastplate of this civilization
or are we approaching the limit of our 21st century attention span
that gets shorter every year
a doomed generation, or
valiant and new and just beginning to understand our vastness
some days I have no love for what we have become
and others I can not swallow  for all the impossible movement
and the breadth of our strides
some days I think we are so human and will never escape
our need to be held

and I am troubled by the anonymity I give the minutes
as if they are unworthy of distinction and one just like the other
only when congregated and assembled into larger bodies
of months and years
do they earn my recognition
it is my task, then, to name the seconds
and commemorate their births
and celebrate them at their deaths
not spend so much time
mourning dried up hours
emptied of blood and water
only white chalky outlines
of their powdering skeletons left
and to remember what it is
to be thankful for the chance to see a sunset
and for this canister of flesh
that walks upright and
has opposable thumbs
bears the mark of millennia
a burned in brand that says I am bound to evolution
if nothing else
let me believe
that I am here in the service of survival
an indispensable prototype
for some future perfection
and if I am not meant for greatness
I am meant for progress
beholden to my species
to be bruised in this life
so an unborn child
will have thicker skin
and a hard-set jaw
and her child unbreakable fists

at least

let a tree grow from my grave when I am gone


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