The Metaphor of the Elephant in the Dying Room


Artist: Borg de Nobel, all rights reserved

The Metaphor of the Elephant
in the Living Dying Room

Those final days
we spent together,
ravens peppering
the green,
green grass
outside her window…

Those elephants
exposed for what
they’d always been:
chimera of secrets held

T            L
O           O
O           O
O           O
O    I    O
       N   N
       S
       I
      D
      E

the telling made us
bleed.

Over the years,
planted
on opposite sides
of the continent
our anger
oozed
like sap from
wounded bark

like pachy-
dermic pus.

I wish I’d been there,
crawled into her bed
to hold her
when blackbirds came
to set her free.

Instead I have a memory
(a dream):
her hands touching my head.

And Butter-
flies.

Today over at dVerse Poetics Claudia Schonfeld invites us to write an Ekphrasis on the incredible artwork of Borg de Noel, a Dutch artist. One image brought to mind my sister who died at age 61 of pancreatic cancer in a period of only four weeks. I spent much of that time with her, talking about our perceptions of our difficult growing up years. We were both only 7 when our widowed parents wed. During those years my parents, well-meaning to be sure, never spoke of our deceased parents–her mother and my father. Cris sent me back home the day before she died, but came to me in a dream and laid her hands on my head (in blessing). When I received the phone call informing me of her death, I was sitting on the deck with my morning coffee. A migration of butterflies invaded the yard. As a hospice nurse, I’d witnessed apparent “event” experienced by the families of my patients. This was the first I’d encountered myself.

Even if you don’t have time to bring your own poem to the Pub, I encourage you to make it a point to stop by and read about this talented artist, and while you’re at it, taste some fine poetry.

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35 thoughts on “The Metaphor of the Elephant in the Dying Room

  1. dragonkatet says:

    This one packs quite the emotional punch. The vertical form of those three words forced me to slow down, so I think they work. ” pachy- / dermic pus.” was brilliant. I know there’s an elephant in the painting, but I like the metaphor of it better. I also think you’re right in your assessment of the dream (a goodbye and blessing) and the butterflies. I hope that your heart and soul found light (and lightness) after such a heavy experience.

    Like

  2. Wow, Victoria, this is incredible – the beautiful poem, and the story. As I read about the visit where her hands were on your head, I thought to myself “in blessing”, and you received it as such – also the butterfly phenomenon, as such sightings so often accompany death. Your writing is very wonderful.

    Like

  3. It’s rare, but I don’t have words right now. Just some eyes brimming with tears…

    Like

  4. Such a loving and emotional poem – the final phrases with the blackbirds and butterflies – just beautiful. K

    Like

  5. Julie Laing says:

    This piece is so powerful, Victoria. I love how you took an outside prompt and came up with such a personal, emotional poem. Did you know you wanted to write this piece when you saw Borg’s painting? I noticed how some of your readers thought you’d chosen the art to go with the words–I’m even more impressed with the result knowing it was the other way around. The references to images in the painting–elephant and blackbird, colors and so on–work well within the emotions and picture you paint; the piece stands on its own.

    My one crit would be the vertical type–which in all honesty is probably personal preference; I often find such formatting more distracting than informative. And now that I look at it again, I wonder if it’s just a glitch on my end and the words are supposed to line up differently–and actually be different, since I’m getting “too” “inside” and “loon”… Love the rest. Great write.

    Like

    • When I saw the painting, the idea for piece immediately came to mind because when my sister was dying, blackbirds were indeed all over the lawn outside her home, and in the whole neighborhood as well. And the whole theme of the elephant in the room was something we discussed together, not just at the time of her death, but in the months leading up to it.

      Playing with form, as in the vertical type, is something I don’t usually try, but the Basquait-type painting and the box-like inclusion in the art itself, I was invited to “think outside the box.” The poem happened very quickly and I just let it write itself.

      Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to comment/critique, Julie.

      In your “About” you speak of publishing in the Orange Country Register. Is that the one in CA? My sister lived in Huntington Beach Harbor and my mom is still in Huntington Beach. That paper has such a good arts section.

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      • Julie Laing says:

        You’re absolutely right–the painting really does prompt us to think outside the box. And with that in mind, there is something about the vertical type that works in yours. I think part of my disinterest in unusual layouts for poems is that they often seem random, almost like the writer looked at the typed page, thought how can I make this more interesting?, and started playing with the layout rather than the words. And certainly I love to perform my pieces and often read aloud when I’m looking at others. But again, in this case, the vertical type is a clue to the reader–I instantly stretched out those words.
        Thanks for your visit as well–and yes, it was the Register in Southern California, but quite a long time ago. 🙂 It was a great gig, though–and a great group of writers and editors with the arts, for sure.

        Like

  6. vivinfrance says:

    Taking the poem in conjunction with your notes, it is a powerful expression of loss.

    The pictures did nothing for this too prosaic and literal old woman, but I was tickled by your graphic representation of the elephant. Were the letters significant, or simply there for the shape?

    Like

  7. zongrik says:

    thanks for writing about the elephant. we need to fight for the elephants. they are slaves. their lands are taken away. their babies taken away and tortured!! we need more awareness, more poetry for and about elephants, i say.

    slowly it had to last

    Like

  8. Superb, highly engaging poetry, Victoria. I love these sections:

    “chimera of secrets held” (two lions inside)

    “the telling made us
    bleed”

    “crawled into her bed
    to hold her
    when blackbirds came
    to set her free”

    “Instead I have a memory
    (a dream):
    her hands touching my head.
    And Butter-
    flies.”

    When I read “butter flies,” I picture you throwing things across the kitchen in a fit of rage and pain, your lion finally coming out.

    Like

  9. souldipper says:

    I had to come and read this, Victoria. This is packed with so many different emotions for me, but that line…”like pachy-dermic pus”. What a painting you serve, creative one.

    You know, I love stages in life when something this deep grabs us by the energy strings and says, “Hey! Hey you! Have you thought about this? In this way?”

    And you put it to poetry!

    Like

  10. Life is mysterious! You have a way of sharing experiences that touch the heart. Welldone!

    Like

  11. Dulce says:

    Oh my this is painful and evocative. me likes

    Like

  12. Claudia says:

    oh victoria…this brought tears to my eyes… such deep emotional connection…and so good that you were able to talk about the things and get the elephants out of the way

    Like

  13. hobgoblin2011 says:

    Love the variety of style in this piece, really does come up with a dream like environment when you think about how dreams often contain many different ideals in it’s ever unpredictable scenes. The projective/concrete verse in the center here is outstanding. Great take on the painting, but you didn’t just give an impression or a take, you offered more, of yourself in here. Great read. Thanks

    Like

  14. clawfish says:

    you wrap me in the emotion and feeling and i like

    Like

  15. Very beautiful, moving, emotional and griping. I loved this. powerful.

    Like

  16. Mohana says:

    beautifully written, this is touching.

    Like

  17. janehewey says:

    this is beautifully and intensely human. you are so fully present in this piece – it aches with loss and love. i admire your courage.

    Like

  18. kaykuala says:

    So moving and so brave,Victoria! That was when they needed us most. Caring for someone who was feeble could be truly energy sapping. Nice write!

    Hank

    Like

  19. Susan says:

    “Those elephants
    exposed for what
    they’d always been:
    chimera of secrets held”
    SO LONG that they bled in the telling. GASP.
    “our anger
    oozed
    like sap from
    wounded bark”
    This is something I know too well, and these words show how it kept floating on and on.
    I wish you held her too. Thank God for the talk, bleeding or not. Her forgiveness is in the dream touch, and it is possible that she sent the butterflies as well. Thank you for following this amazing poem with your story.

    Like

  20. Mama Zen says:

    This moved me so much!

    Like

  21. Bodhirose says:

    Only four weeks…I put myself in your place and try to imagine one of my siblings being so ill and dying…I can’t even do it. Love the butterflies that showed up…they were a blessing as well as that dream of your sister. So touching, Victoria…

    Like

  22. Victoria–this is so well done, and throbs with emotion. God. I love this. The butterflies ending really, really works well here. Loved.

    Like

  23. Very emotive, and so lovely that she came to you in a dream, with butterflies.

    Like

  24. ManicDdaily says:

    So sad. These things are so crazy. Very well realized in your poem. k.

    Like

  25. I so feel this. What an emotional time. They say butterflies are a symbol of freedom, of letting go. I had my encounter with that one caught in the hood of the car soon after I lost my partner. Deeply moving that your sister came to you and touched your head, I’m sure she did. Having had many such events happen to us too, I find this very moving Victoria. Beautiful writing about a very emotional topic for you. The picture is perfect for it.

    Like

  26. Mary says:

    Victoria, this is am amazing poem and story, Victoria. Interesting that Cris sent you back home the day before she died. You have had more experiences than I have, but this does not surprise me. I think sometimes the dying would rather die alone. I have personally had 3 experiences like this…with people having held out until after I have left. I do think it was she who touched your head; and the butterflies were significant. Beautiful work this week.

    Like

  27. What a dream and chimera of secrets …and thanks for sharing this ~

    Like

  28. brian miller says:

    gosh…this is deeply emotional victoria…to finally get the chance to talk out the elephants in the room….to not be there when they passed or to only feel the touch on the head…and butterflies…this is lovely and emotive…..love the word play there in the middle as well…..

    Like

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