My Girlfriend’s Grandpa
A poem by Chase Ambler
Photo credit to CERAC
~ Reflection ~
First of all, the title really dates this poem. I haven’t thought of my wife as my girlfriend in almost five years. We’ve been married for almost three years (wife), and engaged for two years before that (fiance).
Many years ago, my grandfather-in-law’s index finger was severed at the first knuckle in a tile cutting accident (I believe). This led to a rounded tip on his, now shorter, finger. The finger was not grotesque by any means, but because of my childhood I had a strange reaction to his favored digit.
I grew up in South and South East Asia, and I have some vivid childhood memories of poor people with leprosy in India. They would loiter at certain stoplights and rush to your car to try and earn a few Rupees. I remember being frightened by the sudden assault of people with newspapers wiping the windows in attempt to get paid for their service. Many of these unfortunate souls had leprosy, so many of their fingers had been reduced to nubs and even some of their hands and forearms were gone due to repeated injuries due to nerve damage. Living as an untouchable in India is horrific, but to do so with such a debilitating disease such as leprosy is unthinkable. I was pretty easily scared as a child (and probably am still today), so these onslaughts of beggars in a frenzy around the car had a lasting effect.
I find it interesting that while conscious of the fact that my wife’s grandfather had lost his finger in a completely unrelated way, that knowledge did little to alleviate my embedded childhood fear of stumps. This is essentially what this poem is about, what it’s aim was. I wanted to show how strong of a hold our childhood experiences have on us. Even if we are aware that something we experienced as a kid shouldn’t consume our thoughts in adulthood, it’s still something that many of us struggle with. My wife will never like horses. I will never like stickers. Many adults still dislike clowns.
Though I got used to his stump, the connection deep in my mind to leprosy was always there. It makes me question: does anyone truly escape their past experiences, or do we just learn to deal with them a little better as time goes on?
“Back in India, leprosy hung / where digits once extended” is probably my favorite line of the poem. I like the thought of disease hanging onto ghost limbs – haunting them even after they are gone.
Chase Ambler is an American writer who spent his childhood in South and Southeast Asia. His life has been shaped by strange obsessions: heavy metal music, mountains, travel, and soccer. These subjects have all molded his poetry and prose in some way, but the birth of his daughter may have the greatest impact yet. He lives with his wife, baby daughter, and dog in Colorado. If one went looking for Chase, they could find him anywhere from changing diapers to summiting 14,000 foot mountains, but odds are he’s in front of the computer working on his next novel. Visit the FB page for his Novel: Snowsong