By Lauren Gordon
I have been thinking a lot about my halcyon days of how I would enter a poem. Once I went on a long walk with the baby, pushing her in the stroller through the alley behind our house when I heard sirens in the distance. We both paused, which gave me just enough breath to notice the wild bluebells growing from a crack in the asphalt. In the space of sirens, bluebells are a miracle, I thought. I thought that line for the rest of the walk. I thought that line for days. I thought that line until it turned into a poem. I loved the Greek play on sirens and bells, the image of my child listening sweetly, the day moon above us. The poem happened in an organic and thoughtful way.
It used to happen like that often. Meanderings and observations would evolve into language and then into lines, a line I could chew on for days (sometimes months) – a note in a notebook, or musings on words or form. I could immerse myself in books of poetry and come up for air with ideas. Even the feverish poems that came into this world shortly after my daughter did were entered into with an almost manic upchucking of necessity. Poetry as compulsion first, craft later. That was years ago.
I don’t know what changed. I can barely think in full sentences anymore. No. Wait. I know exactly what changed. Mobility. Language acquisition. Independence. Potty training. Preschool. That’s what happened.
When I was 9 years old, I had a friend in the neighborhood who had a swimming pool. We swam almost daily unsupervised either because it was the 1980s or her parents were negligent. One of our favorite games to play was mermaids. We would slip our feet through a rubber ring and then swim. It was cumbersome but we thought we looked graceful. Another favorite game was to stack the weighted rings on our arms like bangles and try to stay below the water for as long as possible.
Have you ever done this? Stayed under water until your lungs felt like they were about to burst? Fighting your way to break the surface and gasp in a lungful of air? That’s what this feels like. That’s what this parenting thing feels like right now.
“What are you making for breakfast?”
“No you’re not.”
“Natalie, could you please pick up your shoes?”
I call this next one a one-act play titled “Bedtime”:
“I’m not tired. I can’t sleep. Can I have a glass of water? I’m so sad. I’ll miss you guys. Can you turn the fan on? I need socks. I’m not tired. I can’t sleep. I don’t want to go to bed. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama.”
You just have to imagine all that being screamed, repeatedly, at top decibel. Imagine it so loud that you experience the death of your own hearing tissue.
Defiance is a natural and normal phase that kids go through. It’s how they exert their independence, by realizing they’re a separate being from their parents. It’s a mark of self esteem and identity. This is what the experts say anyway. Maybe it’s bullshit. Maybe it’s just something they say because it feels so awful for the parents trucking through it. Most of the time I feel myself flailing underwater, desperate to come up for air. It’s tiresome being the bad guy. 98% of my day is spent trying to come up with some sort of verbal tactic to coerce or convince my daughter to do what she needs to do. People get paid to do this, you know. They’re called hostage negotiators.
Entering the poem no longer happens in an organic and thoughtful way. I have to elbow my way in. I have to force myself to concentrate, force the language and the words. I used to experience the world and let it find its way into me. Now it’s the opposite. I comb the recesses of my mind to dredge up unfinished business. Where I once reflected, I now dig. I imagine a tiny little man in my head in the cemetery landscape of my brain, his shovel squishing into my gray matter. Find anything today, sir?
Ah, yup. There’s the divorce memory. Oh look, chronic illness. It’s buried right next to trauma. Whoops, dug too deep – not ready to start writing about motherly guilt, too fresh. Let that one rot for awhile.
I tell my clients and students to begin a daily writing practice. Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Buy a special pen! A lovely journal! Use the notes function on your phone! Even if you’re just writing down what you ate! It counts! Just write! Write! Write!
I’m a hypocrite, I know. Write every day? What a crazy privilege that fathoms. No such thing as writer’s block, I say! Oh, I love to say that one. Disbelief and wide eyes, always. Writer’s block comes with some romantic notion of the harried writer at his typewriter, empty glass of Scotch, hands in his hair while he mumbles to himself. Nothing a five minute writing practice can’t fix!
I don’t have the privilege of always being present in the world. And “the world” has the power to break my heart wide open if I let it where my interior life is more controlled. As the mother to a miniature Sid Vicious, as someone with chronic health dramas, as someone that’s just trying to eke out a living while raising a kind and gentle kid in a scary world – but also as someone who is involved in school and community, someone who has a little bit of a social life, someone who keeps a house clean and a fridge stocked and is up to date on flu shots and birthday cards – it’s a shit show of responsibilities.
So how do I enter a poem now? However the hell I can.
Here is what exhaustion, opposition, and good old fashioned aging have taught me: the most important thing is the art itself. Oooh, that’s good, right? Read it again. The most important thing is the art itself. Not the finished product, not where it’s published, not the readership, but the process of creating the art for the artist herself. It’s OK to have 20 unfinished poems on my phone. It’s OK to not sit down every day (week/month) and write. It’s OK to not be an academic, OK to not be engaged in constant critical thought, OK to not even have enough money to keep up with what is being published. It’s OK. Process changes. Children develop in new and amazing and terrible ways. The trick is to roll with the punches.
It’s about finding the entrance and just stepping through. That’s the most important part of process/existence.
And if you can’t find the entrance, light some TNT and blast a new goddamn door.