Since completing the first draft of my current novel in Banff this spring my focus has been on editing and revising, I haven’t done a lot of wild fresh writing. This weekend when I visited my friend Sue Reynolds we sat down to write together. She shared her experiences at a recent Ellen Bass and Marie Howe poetry retreat in Taos which helped me dive right in to something new.

One of the poems the participants of that retreat were given was this remarkable poem: Washing the Elephant by Barbara Ras.

I limbered up a bit, let go, allowed myself to write what was available in that moment and I was off…

Here it is:

Today is punctuated by thunderstorms.

The trees explode with green. Grasses ignite and flare in their greenness. Greener than this ink which is said to be the colour of the heart’s chakra.

What colour would the heart be if you washed it clean? White, perhaps – the colour they say is pure colour – the colour that absorbs all colours? How do you wash the heart, then? With its own blood or with your tears – those coloured with the slate of grief and guilt.

I would like to wash my heart.

Once, when I was seventeen living on an attempted commune in the Slocan Valley, I washed my flowered cotton dress in a stream of snowmelt, its full skirt billowed in the current and my hands turned white, then blue. Surely water this cold should wash out the stain.

I had no suspicion then of how I was to wield my own machete; how I was to hack apart my own sweet heart.

Perhaps then it isn’t a matter of washing such as with soap and snowmelt, but rather a gathering of shards – the bits caught in overhanging branches, tissue sinking to the rippled riverbed – and laying them on the innocent green of rain-soaked grasses to stitch and soothe.

I will be kind, you tell yourself, scooping up your healing heart to settle it into its original place. As you would a newborn; as you would someone you loved.