by Kirsten Andersen
The lone elephant
though large in appearance
seems the most vulnerable of species
ungainly and grey
she knows when she’s in the room
appearing shy and awkward
she does not know
her foot can move freely
she can walk forward
from the loneliness, grief, despair
she can walk
to where the sun comes home
to the earth on the horizon
Here – the herd
they remember her
surround her in an elephant embrace
trunk to tail
tail to trunk
they form a single line
a tender thread
of unspoken connection
as one grand silhouette
quietly etching their grace
into the memory of the earth
Kirsten Andersen was my first writing mentor and I have her to thank for the flourishing Callanish Writes series,** and for inspiring me to write a book. I wish I could tell her how far through the book I am, and how stuck I still get, at times.
I remember the day Kirsten hopped out of her navy Jeep with a lightness in her step. Her blond hair was finally long enough to be swept up into a tiny ponytail high on her head, and her cheeks were pink at last. She wore a tight, blue and white top, a short down jacket and jeans. The only evidence of cancer was the one-inch scar to the right of her collarbone where the implanted intravenous device had been.
We sat on the couch with mugs of Earl Grey and lemon pecan cookies. Kirsten launched in. “As you know, writing’s been my lifeline in this nightmare with cancer, as it has been throughout my thirty-five years of life. Would you be interested in starting a writing series at Callanish?” she asked.
“Absolutely!" I replied. "I’ve thought about it many times, but just haven’t done it. I must have been waiting for you!”
Words spilled out of her. “A maximum of fourteen writers will meet once a week for eight weeks, perhaps three hours a session, if you think people will have the energy? I like the Amherst Writer’s model of using prompts to help focus on a topic. We’d write for about thirty minutes, read if we want to, and then other group members could respond. We won't critique the writing but rather speak of how the writing inspires us or challenges us.” She was excited.
“When shall we start?” I asked.
"Soon?" She leaned forward on the edge of the cushion. Cancer was nowhere to be seen, even though it still lived in many parts of her body. New purpose emanated from her bright face. Finding meaningful occupation is challenging when you are too sick to go to work.
My friend and mentor Kirsten, as she writes in her poem, The Herd, has quietly etched her grace, her existence into the memory of the earth. She died on February 7th, 2011, at age 38, after leading five Callanish Writes series. She sits beside me every day as I muse over finding the perfect word for a story.