Friday, May 8, 2009

Comes a time when you have to wait outside the men’s bathroom door...

...and trust your son to dirty urinals and the company of men you don’t know. Or stand in line for the women’s bathroom during intermission (Beauty and the Beast) with eight little girls dressed like Belle in gold and white gowns, two stalls out of commission (one doorless, one with a clogged toilet). Against the backdrop of the reality of at least one child found in a suitcase at the bottom of a pond and news of a roadside stalker (Sonoma County), how do you launch a child, trust your community, believe in God?

I’m so thirsty my armpits hurt, said my son last night when he snuck down the stairs after 10 p.m., found me scribbling. When he asks what I’m writing about, I can’t say about rape, so I defer to the page before and say: how a human ear has as sure of a curve as an abalone shell, and both rims seem to curl out of the same horn, only one is silver and one is of skin beneath which lies a brain (proof enough of God).

I don’t tell him that it doesn’t matter what image I start with, I end up asking the same questions (end of paragraph 1) which is my lot as mother/writer. No surprise most of us hunker down, like those abalone, and suction tight to the home cliff at the slightest touch of a stranger. Or have the urge to nod in affirmation at the opening lines of the poem Not a Sparrow: “Just when I think the Buddhists/are wrong and life is not mostly suffering,/I find a dead finch near the feeder” Tess Gallagher, Dear Ghosts, p.5). Best I can hope for is to be coaxed out of mistrust for the group at large when one or two members of the human tribe make devastating choices.

And take notes as I go. Like Lucia Perillo in her book: I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature. Touted on its cover flap as “a poet’s honest—and edgy—reckoning of her attempt to maneuver through the world in a body she reluctantly inhabits,” Perillo’s book includes, in addition to ways of grappling with multiple sclerosis, enlightening scrutiny of the tradition of female outlaw poets in the chapter, Bonnie Without Clyde.

As Perillo questions the Norton Anthology’s table of contents with regards to female poets, she writes: “Now in this moment: I pull poetry books down from my shelves until I assemble a big stack written by my more-or-less peers. Together we write this poem I call ‘Bonnie Without Clyde’ (p. 126)” composed of lines by twelve women writers from Kim Addonizio to Susan Yuzna. What a cool way to put one’s finger on the pulse of female poetry.

I admire also the stark, sure overview Perillo allows herself: “Though it was the male poets of the last midcentury who first started writing autobiographically, it was the women who got slapped with the confessional label, which has come to mean a large degree of self-absorption combined with poorly edited melodrama. If one were to get paranoid about this, it might seem that the term confessional poetry was coined so that any eruptions coming from female quarters could be squelched (p. 123).” Such overviews serve to remind one simply to keep writing.

No excuse to hide, or your daughter will, is a line I cut (for its baldness) and then keep splicing back in to a Joan of Arc poem I muscle to the ground preparing today to submit to CALYX, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. As a poet I’m cursed with that childlike belief in the incantatory strength of words to push sunward the group mind we inhabit. More likely blessed.

One day in the park (while I was home writing), my 6 year old son ran off alone to use the bathroom. My father called after him to wait.

“What,” yelled my little guy, “are you scared someone’s going to steal me?!”

“Actually, yes,” my father calmly replied when he caught up with my son, “I need to go with you for now.”

My father reassured me he didn’t provide further gory details or launch into any lengthy explanations. We both agreed it was a necessary statement of fact that my child is better armed with than not. And my son’s exasperation when he finds me planted outside the door waiting for him--worth withstanding. Soon enough he’ll be on his own.

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