Elephant Street

Elephant Street

Poetry

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About the book

Charach has learned about terror at the side of patients whose exquisite sensitivity makes them, willingly or not, the antennae of the race.

“Elephant Street explores the themes of urban restlessness, and fears arising from such complex social issues as social class inequalities, society’s overemphasis on appearances, and the ever-present spectres of ill-health and death, whether by ‘natural’ or terror-related causes.” —Prairie Books Now

About the author

Charach, Ron

Ron Charach was born and raised in Winnipeg, and educated in medicine and psychiatry in Winnipeg, Toronto and New York, completing his training in child and adolescent psychiatry at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in 1980.

Charach's poetry has appeared in most Canadian literary journals, as well as in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, and in the anthology of world physician poetry, Blood & Bone, published by the University of Iowa Press.

Charach's poems have won praise from prize-winning poets as diverse as Roo Borson, Don Coles and Don Mckay.

Excerpt

Listen to Ron Charach reading the title poem from 'Elephant Street' (2:18)

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Listen to Ron Charach reading 'The Old Cardiology Dream' from 'Elephant Street' (0:42)

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Listen to Ron Charach reading 'The Night After' from 'Elephant Street' (1:30)

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Blue Sperm Whale

His patient brings in a dream,
to infiltrate his own:
I'm about five, I'm on a windy beach
dragging at the sand with my hands,
when suddenly, I bring into view
the rubbery brow of some long-submerged ocean beast.
My fingernails keep clawing, clawing
aching from the pressure,
till after what feels like hours
I unearth its entire body:
A blue sperm whale.
Is it alive?


Cautiously, he interprets
her painful struggle to expose
yet somehow contain an old Oedipal menace.
Now, after five years on his taut leather couch,
on a morning in late April,
she sits up and confesses, I love you.

Other images she shared
speed through his mind:
her mother's horrified scream
when she walked in on them
and her father urgently covered his naked wife,
vague memories of the thrashing that followed,
her back and neck lashed
with the pain of barbed ocean waves
and a terrible excitement.
Now, crowning up through the sand
shamelessly naked and blue,
this spent beast from the sea
and more, I love you.

He recalls that her dreams are often
mined with fish-hooks. Here too,
Each time I try to free their grips
they snare and bite at my fingers.

Mentors from his training
circle like pilot fish,
offering a school of evasive replies
from a feeble "I too have feelings for you,"
to a simple, suspect "Thank you,"
as if he were gaining, no, maintaining
an upper hand, as in the lament:
The patient has a vantage point,
the therapist an advantage point.


I love you too, trips off his lips
because of the truth,
because the risk of losing his license
seems banal against her gallery of ocean images.
And though he knows she has been raped
and repeatedly mistreated, this therapist
(The Rapist, she nicknamed a doctor from her past),
he rises from his chair as she rises from his couch
for a long silent hug.

Later he tells a frowning colleague
who specializes in physician abuse,
"Hugging a female patient is never sexual
for me; it only happens from the waist up."

But even as he defends his stance
he senses the stirring head of a blue sperm whale
desperate to free itself from the sand.
A nearby buoy shines bright as a cenotaph.
Stretched across the excavated pit
where once a whale tried to surface,
he grieves what little remains, lines of tiny barbs
glistening, twitching in the ocean breeze,
painted with freshly drawn blood.

 


Elephant Street

for those who chart the red shift of galaxies

When Israel went forth from Egypt, Armand and I
wound our way through another spring.
The Jordan turned back a rush of hot-dog smells,
a pollen of street dust and car-stereos blasting through open windows.
The mountains skipped like rams past panhandlers and boutiques,
and Armand grinned down at me like a carnivorous fish.
"Judaism is an aesthetic choice," he said. "The sea saw it and fled."
An expanding universe is speeding up. My step slows.
I had shaken my head: "How can anyone be an atheist?"
"But you're an atheist," he thunders over the busy intersection.
"There are hundreds of Gods you don't believe in
—the elephant-headed Ganesh—and only one in which you do."
We're in for a lovers' quarrel.
I scoured the universe with questions, scrubbing until it was nearly clean,
but by the Gates of Prayer we stopped again to dodge the cars.
Half-heartedly, I switched back to science,
the "eternal molecules" argument, which he side-swiped.
"If a car were to hit you between here and Spadina Avenue,
would your family be consoled
to know your molecules were still here?
You wouldn't be forgotten, but you'd be gone."
The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth is given to mortals:
That made me look around and count
the number of streets on which a Jew could walk.
A universe was speeding up when it should slow down.
We parted the seas, as usual, on good terms.
The rock of his heart by then must have been turning to water;
we are just flints from which sparks are struck.
It is not the dead who praise the Lord, it is not those who go down to
silence.

It's like that, talking about God over lunch-hour
as the seasons change on the unforgiving concrete.
"To Fate," Armand calls back a final time,
raising an imaginary wine glass as he steps into traffic,
"no matter how we render it."

 

* italicized lines in "Elephant Street" are quoted with permission from Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book, by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Reviews

Elephant Street is Ron Charach's seventh book of poetry. Originally from Winnipeg and now a psychiatrist practising in Toronto, Charach is, as a poet, a realist with an affinity for linear narrative line.

A typical first line--as… >>

— Robert Moore Winnipeg Free Press

With a world on the bring of war and new threats of terrorism at home and abroad, it is no wonder that many are referring to this as the age of anxiety. Enter Elephant Street, a new collection of poetry… >>

— Robyn Maharaj NOW Magazine


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