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12 April 2008

Poets help us wish harder

Old_typewriter_3Breathe-in experience,
Breathe-out poetry.
-Muriel Rukeyser

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.

Typewriter2 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.

The Writer

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.

-Richard Wilbur

[thanks once more to Lee Hancock for sending this poem]


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I have goosebumps reading that. I want to post that somewhere to remind me to honor my daughter's passage. She is just 7, but I, like you, need to remember.

Although not nearly as moving & beautiful, I was also reminded of this post that a friend forwarded me:

(ps, how perfect is that word "affright"?)

That's a stunning poem. It made my heart ache.

I swore the same things when I was a teenager - I'd never forget what it felt like to be a kid, that I'd be a better parent than my own. I didn't get that opportunity, but have some amazing nieces and nephews who fill some of that empty space. And a few of the same phrases I grew up with fall out of my mouth, and I get irritated with their drama, and I love them fiercely and remember what it felt like then.

I honestly don't know if it is my own recollections guiding me or not, but I have taken a stance with my daughters, four in number (16, 18, 20, and 22), of being the mentor and quiet listener, not the judge and jury. Maybe that's a reaction to their mother, my ex, who seems to have a very strong Judge Judy gene.

The secret is to offer only what is sought, in my opinion. Yes, it is okay to consider it a seeking when one of our spawn acts out in a way which is unfamiliar and out of character, but go as gently as you can. It's theirs to decide, not ours. Too many times, we parents miss that crucial fact.

I often remind myself that my daughters problems are a "matter of life and death" to her and not something trivial and easily solved by the great, wise, all-knowing mother. I pretty much have a perpetually swollen tongue from biting it so hard.
I am starting to realize that she isn't really looking for an answer unless she looks you in the eye and asks the question. She mostly just wants someone to listen and maybe carry the heavy cargo, just a little.

I'm awe struck by this post and transported back to the faded memory of my own journey through my teenage years. At times I do not feel distant from that young others I couldn't be further from her shores.

Thank you for sending me a mental boat so that I could visit her again.


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