Underestimating Storms and Other Dangers Presented by the Patriarchy

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The other weekend my kids and I went out to finish some things on the fun-things-to-do-list which is on a whiteboard in our dining room. They voiced concerns that I was succumbing to the patriarchy by underestimating Hurricane Hermine. Because I am the power*, I was undeterred. We went to the planetarium at the Air & Space Museum. It seems my younger son had not been to the Air&Space in his memory, he was so fascinated by everything. We just slowed down and trailed behind him. Facebook was stressing me out about the closing of the Robert Irwin exhibition at the Hirshorn, so we walked through that as well (there was more complaining here–modern art is oddly high on the list of things that make my very linear-thinking older son absolutely furious). We ended with a picnic with a flask of tea in the sculpture garden and my younger son proposed a toast: “To an enjoyable experience.” He really talks like that. My whole heart swelled. Something is different in me when we’re together, something is settled, there’s a sense of being myself and enough that I don’t get anywhere else. This past week they were away for longer than they usually are, which was hard.

I’m very slowly reading a really fascinating book called “Our Beleaguered Species” by Elizabeth Crouch Zelman, which was recommended by an increasingly dear friend who gets increasingly heckled by me (giving guff is my love language). Zelman says that as Homo sapiens became relatively hairless and our offspring more helpless and unable to cling to their mothers, babies had to be put down and reassured from a distance through maternal vocalization. This is the origin of our complex modern languages. The idea that this–love closing space–might be the root of language makes me so fuzzy inside.

Sounds, of course, have meanings beyond the cultural context of word definitions–I think about this a lot as I’m editing poems aloud. And making sounds have further emotional impact, so that’s another layer I think about. So many great songwriters write the music first and allow the lyrics follow, feeling their way through. This week we have a really incredible group of writers and musicians working together to create a collaborative performance that uses both words and music to convey emotional truths. The show is on Friday at the Mansion at Strathmore, and it’s going to be amazing. I told you about it last week and I’m reminding you now, because the audience is a really important part of this work. Get your (free) tickets here.

I love this poem. Read it aloud. What words/lines do you like saying the best? Borrow those. And start your own poem, in three parts. I love the word fulcrum. “I sit near the center/the fulcrum” is what I’m going to borrow.

Only Child

1

I cradled my newborn daughter
and felt the heartbeat
pull me out of shock.
She didn’t know
what her hands were:
she folded them. I asked her
was there a place
where there was no world.
She didn’t know
what a voice was: her lips
were the shape of a nipple.

2

In the park the child says:
watch me. It will not count
unless you see. And she shows me
the cartwheel, the skip, the tumble,
the tricks performed at leisure in midair,
each unknown until it is finished.
At home she orders:
see me eat. I watch her
curl on herself, sleep;
as I try to leave the dark room
her dreaming voice commands me: watch.

3

Always we passed the seesaw
on the way to the swings
but tonight I remember
the principle of the lever,
I sit the child at one end,
I sit near the center,
the fulcrum, at once she has power
to lift me off the earth
and keep me suspended
by her tiny weight, she laughing,
I stunned at the power of the formula.

D. Nurkse, “Only Child” from The Rules of Paradise (New York: Four Way Books, 2001). Used by permission of Four Way Books.

 

*One of our visitors had added “fight the power” to the list, but since the “power” around these parts is me, we will NOT be doing that.

2 thoughts on “Underestimating Storms and Other Dangers Presented by the Patriarchy

  1. Nate

    Seema,
    You asked me to post my poem as a comment & so I will; you, after all, are the power. I’m not sure how apropos it is but you asked and ye shall receive.
    __________________________________________
    The Radio

    I was riding on the train yesterday. Amtrak. I was visiting my mom
    And it beats the hell out of driving on 95
    Or 66
    Or 29
    Even though it gets boring. Anyways, Amtrak.
    Did you know that, at least on Amtrak, the conductors, and engineers,
    And lots of people who are mysteries to me communicate back and forth
    Again, about mysterious things
    Using radios? I had never thought about it. Nevertheless, to use a well-worn phrase,
    That took me back.

    Way back, before the wars, when we all were training to fight the last war,
    With green faces, green clothes, in the woods with gear all taped up so we were quiet
    As quiet as the VC who we would never fight again.
    No helmets, no body armor, just green facepaint
    And gear our fathers would have recognized. Anyways.

    We trained in the dark a lot, because they had owned the night
    And by God, we were going to own it this time.
    We trained in the dark and the cold. And even though it was training,
    I took it seriously, like I was really there. Plus the consequences of being a slacker
    Were quite unpleasant. The peacetime Army is Hell on discipline. Anyways.

    So I was young and in the dark, playing a serious game. I got nervous.
    Hell I stayed nervous. And so I always had my ears peeled
    For the radio.

    KshhhBlue Units this is Blue Six radio check overKsh.

    We were silent, in our holes in the pitch dark cold, so we could hear.
    You couldn’t see your buddies in the next hole. Anything could be
    About to happen. The radio couldn’t stop things from happening.
    But the faint sounds told you “all is okay.”

    KshhhBlue Six this is Blue One Six roger overksh.

    Somehow you know things are happening the way we want them to.
    You know everybody’s not asleep.
    You know you are still part of the Big Green Machine.
    Your adrenaline surges a tiny bit, making you less cold
    Less sleepy.
    Excited, not nervous.

    You’re not alone in the dark.
    You won’t be left alone, in the dark.

    • seemareza

      This is a perfect fit, Nate. Thank you for posting it.

      –The Power

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