Sunday morning, my daughter drives on icy roads to meet a friend to ski. In the passenger seat, I grimace. There’s no more polite way to reveal my actions: I’m grimacing. My daughter — perfectly capable, but my God, she’s 15, driving on icy roads.
She intends to be driving thus for decades to come, without me, of course, grimacing away in the passenger seat.
We head over the mountain and down along the river where the roads improve. Driving, she talks to me, as if the steering wheel has loosened her natural reticence. She laughs and confides, there’s just so much you don’t need to know.
Oh, my Queen of Economy. Wise and experienced beyond your years.
On the way home, we stop for coffee, and I drive while she eats and talks and plays country music that, good lord again, I’m becoming quite fond of.
Who knows will happen next year, this summer, this spring, this very week — goodness, even this afternoon with so much yet spread out before us? For this moment, here we are.
On the way home, I pull over, hand her the keys, and knock off the grimacing.
Coyotes feed themselves on gaunt dreams of spring.
Day by day, this sweet August season winds down. Next week, I’ll walk with my girls down the driveway to the bus stop, where we’ll kick around the fallen apples from the wild trees along the road, looking through the misty fall mornings for the bright yellow bus. Our summer has been packed with all kinds of things: hiking and friends and art camps, not enough swimming, countless s’mores with the cousins.
We spent a lot of miles with my older daughter at the steering wheel, me with my knitting in the front seat, the three younger kids in the backseat, everyone talking sometimes all at the same time. Near the end of the cousins’ stay, late one afternoon we drove up the winding dirt road towards home, everyone hot and hungry, miserable and crabby all the way around. Without thinking, I put both my bare feet out the window and waved my soles at the passing trees. The children shouted, What are you doing? and because I started laughing, they all started laughing, even the teenager in the driver’s seat who does not approve of such undignified behavior, not at all, although she graciously tolerates my foolishness.
Silly? Completely. But in the face of things that are not humorous–words that none of us even want to say, like cancer for instance–why not occasionally throw your feet up and rally to the grubby children in the backseat? Say: I don’t want to hear bickering; just hang with me for a little bit in this golden summer, with all of you so near?
Driving to work today, I thought of these kids of mine and that afternoon, and the last stanza of one of my most beloved poems, “Fern Hill.” I’d always considered the final words tragically bittersweet, but I wonder perhaps now if I misunderstood these lines. Perhaps this poem is about acceptance of our mortality, and simultaneously an exhortation to sing like the sea, rage on against the dying light, laugh in the face of despair. Write beautifully in this good world.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.