Having grown up in a large family with dozens of younger cousins and siblings around all the time lulled me, as I plowed blindly into adulthood, into thinking that I was something of an authority on the juvenile human. From countless hours minding my younger relatives to the slew of babysitting jobs I had in high school and college, I garnered a feeling of intelligence about children which caused my breeding friends to Continue reading “Open Apology in Advance to My Pregnant or Expectant Friends When I Give Them Advice About Anything”
Hey there. Have you all written a poem or two in honor of April, National Poetry Month? Maybe you’ve attended a poetry reading? (I know some of you have, because I saw you at mine a few weeks ago. Thanks!) Or maybe you’ve gone out and purchased a book of poetry, thereby doing your small part to help stimulate the economy? No? Hmm…we can fix that…
Go out and support a local independent bookstore this week by purchasing a book from them, ideally (since it’s still April), a book of poems. If you don’t like to read poetry yourself, then get one as a gift for someone who does. And for the next week or so, you can even find copies of one of my chapbooks of poetry, still available till the end of month, at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. Here’s their website: www.brazosbookstore.com. (Perhaps if sales of it go well this month they’ll want to keep featuring it on their shelves. Wouldn’t that be nice? It could happen.)
The chapbook they have in stock right now will likely be out of print soon, so this might be one of your last chances to find it anywhere. It’s entitled Barefoot on Marble: Twenty Poems, 1995-2001. I thought, for this weekend’s post, it might be nice to share with you a sampling from this volume. Back in the late 90’s when I was living part of every year in Los Angeles, I had written a short series of poems which my friend and poetry colleague Greg Rea had dubbed “mermaid lit.”; this is one of the poems from that series, a sestina. (And because of the vagaries of WordPress formatting, I’ve placed an asterisk each time there’s a stanza break, just to make it clear. Sorry I had to do that, and if you WordPress bloggers out there know how to insert a space-break on here without having the formatting ripped out when the post gets published, I’d love the guidance. Thanks.)
Moving to Green Rain Island, Your Home
We’ve been sitting on the bed
in the place where it rains
every afternoon as a part
of the natural order of things.
The afternoons become evenings
quickly here under the rainy sky.
I recall an afternoon when a green sky
made me want to crawl into bed
and wait for the dark, wet evening
to clean the greenness away with rain.
The sky-light washed all of our things
in a pale green bath, and a part
of me wished we could make a departure
from this place, jump into the wet sky,
leaving all our things
in the house, piled on our bed
in case rains swallowed the land. Blanket-cocooned, I trembled for rain
to wash the daylight out of the evening
air, but the green tint slid even
onto the darkness, partially
dripped in sheets by the rain,
partially a reflection on the sky
of the wet trees. The window by the bed
shook with the wind, and little things
started to scare me. I packed a few things
into a satchel in case we left for the evening
to sleep in your old bed
at your parents’ house. They were never a part
of the plan, but even I could not resist the sky’s
thundering, the ugly greenness of rain.
Now, wrapped in the blanket, we watch the rain
dripping rivers on the window. You reassure me our things
will be safe in this house, under this sky,
under our bed, and that we will stay home all evening.
I’m not wild about the weather here, but I guess it’s part
and parcel of being with you, together in this bed,
in this house, under this rainy sky,
on an island where people leave their things under their beds
and the evening is part of the afternoon.
I had a strange conversation last summer with my daughter. We were driving home one afternoon. My son, then four, was napping in the sun. My daughter was watching the scenery out her window, and we were both listening to the music playing on the radio. We hadn’t talked for several songs, just having a mellow car ride home. Then all of a sudden, a propos of nothing, she tells me in a dreamy voice, “Mommy, I love Ferdinand.” This is a boy in her class. (Please note, Ferdinand is not his real name.)
“You do?” I asked, thinking this was something to investigate, but not freak out about, not yet.
“Yeah, I do.” She was wearing the kind of smile I could imagine the Mona Lisa wearing, if she had been struck with pleasant infatuation at the age of six and had just eaten a chocolate bar.
“That sounds nice,” I said, trying to figure out how to evaluate what she meant by “love.” I decided to abandon subtlety. “How do you know you love Ferdinand?” I asked, keeping my voice even, light, relaxed.
“Sometimes I just feel like he’s here with me,” she said with great contentment. “Sitting next to me, talking to me, taking a nap with me during movie time.” (The sleepover phenomenon had just started among the kids in her grade, but not boy-girl ones, thank you very much.)
She hadn’t seen this kid in a couple of months. “And do you like to imagine he’s here with you?”
“Yes,” she said, that same sweet smile still gracing her lips.
“So…what about him makes you love him?”
She flashed a really big grin at me. “He’s really funny. He makes me laugh.”
This is a good start, I thought. “That’s an important quality in someone you love,” I said. “And does Ferdinand love you, too?”
“Oh, yes, he adores me,” she said with the kind of self-assurance most adults don’t have when they answer this question.
“That’s very sweet.” I smiled at her in the rearview mirror. “Has he said that to you?”
“No,” she said peacefully, undaunted.
“Then how can you tell he loves you?”
“Because when he sees me, he gets this really big smile on his face that he doesn’t get for anyone else.”
I was struck by the simplicity of her answer, by its grace. I did not freak out. She was beaming, and in this moment I was hopeful that these two children really did have such a genuine affection for each other. I was immediately reminded of Linda from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and the instincutal affection Timmy and Linda have for each other at the age of nine, a fondness they don’t have the vocabulary to explain and yet somehow, don’t need in order to feel or express it.
“We should tell Daddy about him when we get home,” I suggested, and she nodded her head and continued smiling out the window at the scenery.
I wondered whether Daddy would freak out. Considering he started grumbling at boys he saw walking down the street as soon as we found out I was pregnant with a daughter, I guessed he would. But, I wondered, should he?
Something of the self-assurance my daughter exhibited in the car that day gets lost between childhood and adulthood; I think it’s probably burned away in the crucible of adolescence, and unfortunately, young adulthood doesn’t do much to replenish it for most people — or at least, most of the people I’ve known or observed. How horrible. And I say this without too much irony. Even I, in my rock-solid life filled with blessings and a happy marriage, haven’t completely regained that sense of confidence, at least not 100% of the time. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will, or if my brain just isn’t hard-wired that way. It’s a conundrum.
I’ve been thinking lately about love and what it makes us do, how it makes us feel, and how much I desperately wish everyone in the world could experience it on a daily basis.
One of the most important things I learned when I had children was that one’s capacity for love only increases. Exponentially, in fact.
I worried when I was pregnant with my son that my and my husband’s love for each other and for our daughter would be divided when our son was born. Mostly I was worried that my husband’s affection for me would diminish down to a slice of his attention as he lavished all his emotional wherewithal on the kids. He’s such a good father that I didn’t see how it would be possible for him to focus on all of us at once, or together. I sat on this anxiety for too long, and when I finally, tearfully, expressed my fears to him, he smiled and put a gentle hand on my swelling, kicking belly and explained to me in the most loving terms possible that I was a hormonal, raving lunatic.
“That’s just not the way it works,” he said. “Why on earth would it be?” He reminded me that I didn’t love him any less just because our daughter had come along. He asked whether I intended to reduce my affection for him once our son was born.
“Of course not!” I sputtered, indignant.
He shook his head indulgently. “Then why are you worried?”
That, I didn’t have a good answer for, and in the absence of clarity, I just kept my stupid thoughts to myself.
My mother is ten years older than my father. After he graduated from high school in 1970, he went to a business school, and she was his computer programming teacher. She had been a programmer, working in the industry, for a while and hadn’t been teaching long.
He was smitten from the first moment he saw her. He was young and she, beautiful and confident and in a position of respect and authority in a male-dominated industry. In the early seventies, that was a really big deal. He was smart enough to recognize that.
My dad comes from a produce family. They owned a grocery store which boasted some of the best produce in this part of the country (along with pretty much everything else). He brought her an apple every single day and repeatedly asked her to go out with him.
She was downright rude in response. “Absolutely not,” she told him. “Go sit down and leave me alone.”
On the last day of the term, he asked her out one more time. He told her, “After today, I’m not your student anymore.”
I like to think my mother rolled her eyes at him, although I suspect she was too straight-laced and proper to do such a thing. Finally she said, “If I go have coffee with you, will you get off my back about it?”
“I sure will,” he assured her.
She grudgingly agreed. A couple-few years later, they were married.
Love makes us do silly things. Wonderful things. I think about my early twenties, when I got to witness some of these stunts firsthand. That inner joy for humanity made Steve buy a motley collection of exotic flowers and go around on Valentines’ Day handing one out to every girl he saw. (Mine was a bird of paradise.) It made Jason dress up in a cloak like one of the Three Musketeers and go deliver a CD of the soundtrack to his friend’s favorite TV show, wrapped in comics and adorned with a red rose, to her while she was working the dorm security desk in the middle of the night, just to keep her company. It made Konstantin slough off his stern demeanor long enough to let me paint his fingernails black with silver glitter.
“Look, Konnie, it’s the night sky,” my roommate Amber and I told him, laughing, while he grumbled in Bulgarian, then when that didn’t deter us, in Russian, which also failed.
And then he even let us take his picture, even though he and we all knew his students (mostly ten-year-old girls who were also math geniuses) would tease him about it the next day.
Lately my daughter, who is six, has been giving me folded pieces of paper on which are written, “I love you. From: ?” next to a cartoonish sticker of a smiling, heart-shaped cupid. She hands these notes to me as if I were meant to believe that she has just discovered them somewhere, mysteriously, with the intuition that they must be for Mama.
Obviously she has made these love notes but wants me to believe otherwise. Her sly grin and hopeful dark brown eyes encourage me to play along.
“Oh, I must have a secret admirer,” I say each time.
“Yep!” she always replies, as if newly discovering what those words mean.
I thank and hug and kiss her. I tuck the love note away in a box full of special cards and letters. It will be only a couple of days before the next one comes.
I adore love notes. Writing them has become, sadly, a lost art, and I’m pretty sure I can blame the rise of email and other electronic communication for that. Remember when we all wrote actual letters to each other? I had one friend in college who slipped into formal, yet passionate, Nineteenth Century diction when he composed his. Those letters were something to see.
You should write a love letter this year. Go ahead. It’s not that difficult, actually. Just pretend you aren’t going to send it, and then it’s much easier to write. If you’re feeling really inspired, write a poem. You’ve got a week to do it. Go on, get started.
Happy Valentines’ Day.
On January 28, 1986, I was in sixth grade at the St. Francis de Sales parish school in Houston. We were changing classes between religion and social studies. It was a Tuesday, so we were on a short-day schedule and had five classes before lunch instead of four. Social studies was fifth.
All the classrooms had TVs in them, which we used occasionally for important events, like the attempted assassination of President Reagan, like the Astros actually making it to the World Series. Like the day a faulty O-ring, as we would later be told, disastered the space shuttle across an indigo sky.
All the teachers went to watch the news reports in the library together and left the kids alone in the classrooms with the TVs on. I watched the replays of the explosion a few times and then, in my typical anxiety response, sat down and started copying the notes for class off the board while everyone else jumped around excitedly, perhaps in fear or awe.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the shape of the cloud, the Y-split, the bulbous contrails of grief and despair, nor of the face of Christa McAuliffe’s husband as he watched the shuttle unfold itself into a brief fire, then a billowing slingshot of destruction, then finally a silent, dripping trail of sadness and disbelief highlit against the too-dark blue of the lower stratosphere.
I recently came across this article, posted about a year ago, which clarified some of the nation’s myths about the Challenger. In theory, I like knowing that the way we remember things is not always accurate but can be remedied. However, in this case, some of the details might just be worse than the myths in which we enshrouded ourselves. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11031097/#.TyOHEZgqMfE
The day the shuttle broke apart, we were sent home from school earlier than usual. The sky above Houston was turquoise, perfect, unbroken by clouds or contrails or debris. I went out to the swingset in my backyard, where I’d spent most of my free time since I’d turned five, and thought about President Reagan’s address to the nation, how he’d called the astronauts heroes, how he’d likened them to stars in the firmament. The mid-afternoon sun was piercing, the air a little cold. I swung up higher, higher, higher until my eyes closed from the bright searing light, until my eyelids closed upon a red semi-darkness, until I couldn’t reach any higher without slackening the chains holding my swing to the set.
On what I determined would be my final climb, I took a deep breath and leaped into the air. I don’t remember my fall. I don’t remember my body’s arc across the yard. I remember only the brightness, the sky that touched all the way to the ground, the suspension of everything that had ever mattered. The brief, brief flight of a bird I never was.
So Friday night I went to a book launch reception and a spontaneous poetry reading broke out.
This was the Mutabilis Press event for Improbable Worlds. It was a lot of fun catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I was pleased to see some of my students out there, too; it’s nice to provide a little real-world context for what we do in the classroom. And I admit I like it when they have a chance to see me as an author and not just as a teacher. Even though this is no doubt all in my imagination, I get the sense this lends me a little more street cred come Monday morning and I’m back behind the podium.
I had really wanted my children to come to the event, too, but it just wasn’t practical. It’s actually more important to me that my kids see me out in the world being an author, so that they can have some context for when I have to tell them I can’t take them somewhere or play with them or sit and watch cartoons all Saturday morning because I have to go to a writing date or a writers’ group meeting or poetry reading. But taking them to The Jung Center this past Friday night just wasn’t practical. Ah well, someday.
In the meantime, here’s a quick little poem I wrote a while back (speaking of my kids). It started off as an exercise, but it turned into something, sort of.
A Hand-Drawn Card from the Girl Who Does Know Better But.
after Craig Raine after John Berryman
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am desperate for your attention.
I am apologizing for pushing the little brother in the yard.
I am planning the next push anyway.
I am pulling the long hairs of the cat when your back is turned.
I am shouting a song to the sleeping baby while you nap.
I am offering the hamster a fruit snack.
I am changing clothes a dozen times a day.
I am adding extra sugar to the lemonade when you are not looking.
I am wishing you had brought me to school a little early so I could play.
I am wishing you had ironed my clean dress.
I am insisting I can brush my hair myself.
I am happier when you brush my hair for me.
I am asking you five times a night for one more bedtime song.
I am breaking and entering in your nail polish drawer.
I am impatient to grow tall enough to build my own sandwich.
I am asking for potato chips for breakfast.
I am sad when you go to your party.
I am trying to learn how to read.
I am pushing the little brother off the couch.
I am waking you up with kisses.
I am loving you, loving you, loving you.
I am trying to be patient for my sixth birthday.
I am plunging my face into the bowl of cake batter.
I am waiting for you to giggle with me.
I am looking like you every day.
I am turning into a little lady.
I am hoping you’ll take me to tea in my new hat.
I am five and loving you so much.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We had a good one. It didn’t go exactly as we had originally planned — we had unexpected houseguests at the last minute — but we had a fantastic holiday and really excellent weekend. I especially enjoyed hanging out with old friends who no longer live here but were visiting for a few days. Now it is time to get ready for work and school tomorrow, to put up our Christmas decorations, to get back to normal for a few weeks till the next major Series of Holiday Events. (I genuinely love this time of year.)
In the midst of it all, for those of you in the Houston area this coming weekend, here’s something you might enjoy doing Friday evening. There’s going to be a book launch for the new Mutabilis Press anthology, entitled Improbable Worlds, and one of my poems is going to be in it. (Yay!) The poem is called “Recipe for My Daughter.” I hope you’ll join me at the launch! Here are the details:
Friday, December 2nd; 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.; The Jung Center of Houston; 5200 Montrose
And here’s the website for Mutabilis Press:
MP’s website also has information for purchasing the anthology, in case you’re interested. (I was also published in their 2005 anthology Timeslice, in case anyone wants a copy of that as well. It had a lot of really fantastic Houston poets in it, and I was thrilled and humbled to be counted among them. Improbable Worlds will be featuring poets of Texas and Louisiana, if I’m not mistaken.)
If the book launch for Timeslice is any indication, I and many of the other poets featured in the book will be signing copies the night of the event. (I’m also happy to sign any copies other than that night, if you’d like.) I hope to see you there!