Poets help us wish harder
I fervently pledged as a teenager that I would always remember how I felt then, that when I became a parent, I would remember what life was like then, what mattered then, what I worried about and laughed at then, and what I cried over then. I could not possibly ever forget. I would remember.
But I don’t remember. Not really.
I don’t. As much as I never thought I would lose it, I did. I lost that perspective of life in my teens, having convinced myself that the worries of those years are just trivial child’s play compared to the joys of mortgages, dysfunctional bosses, deciphering cell phone plans, and reducing my carbon footprint. But those worries are not more important, not more meaningful, not more real, not when you are fifteen.
My wish for you, Emma—and for every teenager—is safe passage. Let me carry what I can of your heavy load, and let me know when to let you carry those big boxes yourself. Perhaps in those moments I will simply run a slight distance ahead like a palace courtier just to sweep pebbles and stray tree branches out of your way, or to open a door for you while you struggle to balance the heavy load, something. Some small gesture, not too conspicuous. In rare moments, let’s both put down our heavy cargo and rest for awhile.
Poetry helps us wish harder.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
[thanks once more to Lee Hancock for sending this poem]