When the Water Stills


When you have done what you can—no question of whether it is enough,
there will come a time when it does not matter.
When the water stills and you are invisible
you will wander and marvel again:

at the patterns of the carpet, oil in puddles,
the scar on your mother’s hand
the fact of pens, the miracle of laughter

there will be a time when you wake before anyone you know.


I began this poem at a Self-Elegy Workshop given by the brilliant and generous Joy Jacobson at the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference last month.  I’m still working on it, trying to figure out what it’s telling me to do right now.  I’ve been grappling with the innate uncertainty of life; thinking a lot about what it means to be living, what it may mean to die or get ill–I have no choice but to deal with whatever comes my way, but sometimes all of the “what ifs” paralyze me.  Other times I get completely sucked into the now–this month, this due date, this crisis.

Over the weekend I read “Blue Nights” by Joan Didion, a recommendation from my mother–and by recommendation, I mean she bought it for me and placed it on my bedside table.  She said it was the saddest thing she ever read and that I had to read it.  Nothing makes me more nervous than something sad, so it’s been sitting in my stack since she left in August.

“Blue Nights” is Didion’s meditation on aging and death, on how quickly life, and motherhood, go by.  This book may have saved Hurricane’s life.  On Thursday I came home from work completely exhausted and asked the boys to each get a book and sit at the table to have a “reading dinner” that’s usually a treat for them.  Shark was into it.  Hurricane hated the dinner (spaghetti with chicken sausage and pumpkin sauce) and refused to read or feed himself.  I can’t even begin to tell you how annoying that was.  I was done with talking to people for the day.  I had a book, I had a plan, I had cooked dinner (seriously–I could have drank a glass of wine and gone to bed happy) and I had to BEG this ungrateful kid to EAT?  Are you kidding me?  But the book I had chosen was Didion’s, and everything slowed down.

I want to ask you to think about journaling ordinary this week.  What is it like to wake in your bed?  What are the jokes and turns of phrase that are currently being flung around in your circle?  What does the voice of the person who wakes you sound like?  Take a week to live in now, to record now, to feel now.  How your shirt fits and your shoes pinch and why you’re gravitating towards the foods you’re eating all the time and what’s the picture on the home screen of your phone or your cover photo on Facebook.  Who are you in your life RIGHT NOW?  Record it and see what you find.


One thought on “When the Water Stills

  1. […] in 90 minutes. (Two brilliant attendees, Seema Reza and Maiga Milbourne, each blogged about it, here and here.) But that phrase, power of words, has got me thinking, too, about the powers of […]

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