“…When I thought of daughters
I wasn’t expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say ‘like’
I mean of course ‘love’
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.
One day I’ll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.
I don’t care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don’t be fooled by anyone but yourself.
This is the first lecture I’ve given you.
You’re ‘sweet sixteen’ you said.
I’d rather be your closest friend
than your father. I’m not good at advice
you know that, but ride
until they grow dark.
Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
–but that is greed.
And sometimes I’ve gone
into my purple world
and lost you.
One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
–all those possible worlds!–
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.
I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
but I’ll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever…”
To a Sad Daughter by Michael Ondaatje
Her: “Mom, read these.”
Me: “What is it?”
Her: “I’ve written poems. Please read them.”
There are a few moments where as a parent one is blindsided by the inexplicable ties that bind us and the traits we inherit from our ancestors. Today I had one of those moments.
She thrust a neat pile of carefully handwritten poems on my lap, and asked my opinion.
Her: “I need you to put my poems on the computer so that everyone can read them.”
Me: “Okay, but how did you…”
Her: “Do you think people will like my poems?”
The simplicity and sincerity of the question struck a chord. How many times as a child, adolescent, or later, as a student, did I, with false confidence and easily fractured ego, offer my words for dissection and appraisal? Countless.
Her: “Do you like these as much as that other poem, ‘The arrow and the song ‘ ? ”
Better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?
Me: “Yes, love, anything you ever write I will like a thousand times more than Longfellow.”
She sat beside me as I typed her poems into my laptop, and resisted my suggestions.
Me: “You mean ‘wisdom’ right?”
Her: “No mom, spell it the way it is: wizdome.”
She may have inherited my family’s love of words, but her stubborn character and unwavering conviction to get it on paper? — those she has B to thank for.
It is gratifying and comforting to know that in some small, tangible way, we live on in our children.
September 25, 2010
Lately I find myself thinking a lot about rest and my perpetual lack of sleep, and wish for sleep. Most mornings I wake up resentful of the first morning light.
I look at my sleeping children, their bodies warm beneath their covers, their faces perfectly serene. B sleeps this way still. His body, heavy and still, deeply settled in our bed, is completely unperturbed when he rests. I steal the hours of the night and sleep like a fugitive.
Oh, how I yearn for these beds!
“…Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.”
July 7, 2010