Posts Tagged ‘mothering’

I no longer remember much of etiquette

from reading White Gloves and Party Manners,

so when Obama doesn’t come to our house

for Thanksgiving dinner, I needn’t worry

that I’ve forgotten how to address a former president

in an informal setting. I do, however, remind my kids

that if Obama were sitting with us,

they would want to remember to put their napkins

in their laps. They do.

And you probably don’t want to lick the serving spoon,

I add, as it goes from the cranberry sauce

into an eager mouth. And we don’t talk about farting.

The whole time Obama isn’t eating mashed potatoes with us,

we wonder what he is eating with his family

and what they are talking about,

and if he might not just accept an invitation

to our home for dinner. If he did,

we agree we would refrain from using the knife

with the butter dish to butter our own bread.

And, uncertain how to address him,

we’d just ask him personally how he’d like be called.

I’d like to believe that Obama might actually show up.

He’d knock at the door in his elegant and humble way,

no fanfare, holding a side dish of roasted brussels sprouts,

and we’d listen as he told us what he’s up to these days.

As it is, it’s kinda fun when he doesn’t show up

and we act like ourselves. I eat my green beans

with my fingers—they taste better that way.

My daughter plays with the candlewax.

Sometimes, I lick my plate.

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within an hour

I watch the boy transform

from seed to leaf to flower






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And it’s scrub the floors

and wash and wring,

run to the store,

fix everything,


and wash and wring,

and straighten drawers

remember to bring


bags to the store,

clean anything,

then clean some more


fix everything—

it’s in our chores

that love finds wings.


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One Wonder




the boy who fit in my lap

now taller than I—

an oak from a geranium seed

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This morning, like every morning,

his mother rises with her heart open.

Somehow, overnight, it has healed.

She is not like the paper doll

that, when wrinkled by callousness,

will not ever return to its former shape.

No, somehow the heart not only heals,

it grows bigger—some miracle she cannot

understand. She thinks back

to the day he was born, the day

the towers fell. As she went into labor,

she thought no, not today, no not today,

until some strange grace slipped into her

and spoke the new words,

of course today, of course today.

How beautifully, how forcefully

love insists on itself. How astonishing,

the daily miracle that leads us

again to each other.


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The girl with her goggles on pouts when the waves end.

You didn’t stay with me, she says. She holds on to my arm,

as we bob in the clear blue water of the pool. You stay with me,

she says. All around us, the high sun of summer makes

everything gleam. We splash and bob until the bell sounds,

and a collective squeal erupts from the crowded pool.

I stay as I have been told. The waves begin, small at first,

and the girl hangs on. And then the man-made surf

thrashes at our bodies, tugs at our suits. I do not

remember her letting go. I remember watching her head

disappear beneath the wave and her smile as she

emerged on the other side before she dove into the next swell.

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Foreign Tongues




We sometimes slip into w-wanguage,

a tongue my son invented, though no longer speaks.


My daughter and I are the two sole speakers

and we often find ourselves saying


What wa wabulous way, or

Womma, wan wi wease wave wore wapples?


The rules are simple.

We break them anyway,


forgetting to w or tripping over

our own expectations of how a word should sound.


In the end, the desire to speak clearly

and to be understood always wins.


Other times we’ll speak in nonsense syllables,

long strings of babble bellowed or crooned.


We’ll wave our hands, as if there is something

really at stake—like the desire to be understood.


Perhaps this is why whatever syllables

she utters, I will eventually echo them back,


stroking her hair, looking her right in the eye,

letting her know for certain


I know exactly what she means.

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From the Pod

Did you know, she says,
that dolphins will help
an injured animal
reach the surface so it can breathe?
She is six, and she shares
this new knowledge with anyone
she meets—a teacher, a waitress,
a woman in the airport, a man
in line at the store.
Perhaps she is already
somehow aware
that every one of us
is in treacherous waters
in need of a little nudge
from beneath that guides us
to emerge.

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Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky.
—Chippewa, translated by Robert Bly

You have to love your baby.
I didn’t. Not the mornings
he woke, the wails already trembling
on his tiny rose lips. Not the twisting
and stiffening of his perfectly
muscled limbs. Not his face staining red
as he screamed in my arms.
Not the hours, not the days, not the
weeks nor months of bouncing
and rocking and swaying and swaddling.
I wanted to make it stop. I wanted
a different child, one that would
giggle and babble and gurgle and coo
and smile. It was only after I lost
my every hope and forgot my
last expectation that love came in
with its strong lungs and ferocious will
and it’s broken dreams, it arrived
looking only like the child I held,
not at all like the child I thought I wanted.

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It is not so much the look on Mary’s face,
as if she is yet untouched by the tragedy.
It is not so much the diagonal drape
of the dead Christ’s arm, nor the empty folds
of the virgin’s dress. It’s the name that catches me,
Michelangelo Buonarroti, chiseled in the sash
that runs between Mary’s breasts, as if to say,
“This is my work, and it is good.”

Oh Mary, holding your son, dead,
what do you know about wanting to own something
that cannot be owned? Just this morning
my own six-year-old girl curled into my lap
and reached up with her right hand to clasp
my shirt in her fist. You never ever go, she said,
sprawling across me, loaning me all of her weight.

I love to find my signature in this girl—
the greenish gray color of her eyes,
the way she loves to read. The color of her skin,
her silly side. Mary, how did you do it, say goodbye?
I run my hands over the startling muscles of her legs,
trace the shape of her jaw, the length of her neck.
Oh the body, how it loves to touch, oh the soul, how
it blossoms by letting go. And the ego, oh how it wants

to say, this is mine, this is mine,
though the mind knows the way that all things go—
even the glass surrounding the Carrara marble,
even the marble, the cathedral, the square.
Even the girl, who leaps up to chase the cat.
Even her mother retelling the story of longing
and love and fear. Even the story itself.

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