“A serious young man, / I had trouble saying yes / to the bright, clear days,” Soren Stockman’s Elephant begins. The poems that follow move through despair, self-destruction, and disassociation to arrive, finally, at that elusive affirmation. Accompanied throughout by the imagined presence of Joseph Merrick, the 20th Century entertainer and medical patient popularly depicted as “The Elephant Man,” Stockman’s speaker interrogates how storytellers have co-opted Merrick’s identity and obscured his voice and inner life. In this projected communion, Stockman tries to encounter the man who was rather than the role molded from his experiences. What does it mean to perform as another? What allows us to love ourselves, and what makes it hard? This debut collection is a path out of loneliness, beyond private absences, to the true self and what it harbors in its heart. Here, at the center of things, we succumb to the succor of existence, given to the light: “What a blessing to love the world / and then finally be born.”
“To Be Born” from Elephant
When I was young I was really
an old man. I remember it, delicate
and spacious: aware I would
become more honest, feel natural,
knowing half of love
is need. A serious young man,
I had trouble saying yes
to the bright, clear days. With what
pitiful ease we could change—
our lives out, something else in
—but the tissue holds memory
we don’t quite know. One
night, like a boxer dropping
his gloves, I answered
every question immediately.
Slowly we laughed more,
we were hysterical at night
and morning blew the doors open.
I ate a radish, never contracted
chicken pox, my singing improved
and women never stopped looking.
Then my friends began to die.
They passed through the beautiful old
maples I watch from my window.
What a blessing to love the world
and then finally be born.
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