Girls

A mother I don’t know particularly well commented recently that she feels so old, seeing her daughter head off to college, and I thought, Really? While babies and little ones are darling and endearing, those so-intense early mothering years wore me down. Now, as my oldest blooms into her own young adulthood, I’m able to take a kind of pleasure I couldn’t when she was younger. Maybe it’s just me, learning how to stand back , or I’m beginning to accept her life is her own birthright, that my daughter is the master of her destiny – not me. Maybe, simply, I’m learning to elbow away perpetual fears and take joy.

At a breakfast of crêpes, my younger daughter read aloud the word of the day: oenomel: something combining strength with sweetness.

I laughed. That’s me, I said. Or least what I’m aiming for!

.. to a poet, the human community is like the community of birds to a bird, singing to each other. Love is one of the reasons we are singing to one another, love of language itself, love of sound, love of singing itself, and love of the other birds.

– Sharon Olds

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Hardwick, Vermont

Birth

An image appears in art, over and over, of a human down a deep narrow well: trapped. What’s at the bottom? What’s at the top?

17 years ago, I had a prolonged labor with my first daughter, where, hours into it, I knew I was descending headfirst down a stone-lined chasm. In all that darkness, I saw only my outstretched hand, reaching down. At the bottom, I knew with a certainty, as clear as I have ever known anything, lay my death.

I never reached the end of that chasm that night. Instead, I met my daughter, born via emergency caesarian. When I saw her tiny, wrinkled body for the first time, held up for me in the surgeon’s bloodied gloves, her eyes were wide open, and I thought with a fierceness I have never relinquished, She’s mine.

These few lines are but a piece of her traverse into this earthly world, and my soulful journey to meeting her is as real as the glinting scalpel in the surgeon’s hand that released her from my body. So, as fiction writer, when I write of rock-lined tunnels or starless nights, I’m not fabricating stories from nothingness. The interior roads we take may be unseen to the eye but are just as vital, just as humming with mysterious life, as a newborn’s eyes.

…(my mother) was
bearing down, and then breathing from the mask, and then
bearing down, pressing me out into
the world that was not enough for her without me in it,
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea--none of it
was enough, for her, without me.

–– Sharon Olds
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Montpelier, Vermont

Book in the Hand

A cardboard box of advance reader copies of my book–my first book–appeared in the mail. Returning home from work and school, my daughters and I had gone in through the kitchen door, and it wasn’t until I was at the kitchen counter slicing tomatoes for dinner that through the window I saw the box on the stone step at the back door.

It was the most curious feeling to pull out crumpled paper and find my bound  books, so beautifully designed, crafted with such care and attention–this novel I have spun from nothing but my own experience and language, through all those hours scavenged, often late at night, early in the morning, during child naptimes. Like nothing else, this book in my hand is a bridge between the mysterious well of my working imagination and the world, a tangible here I am.

Whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one’s own strange self on the page. […] Writing or making anything — a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake — has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.

–– Sharon Olds

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Daughter, Words

My teenage daughter and I had a long drive through Vermont today.  Don’t laugh — I know Vermont’s a small state, but the roads bend all around these mountains.  She’ll be at an art program for two weeks.  Driving, we listened to a CD my dad had made, a sixties mix of music for a class he’d taught.  As we followed a swollen river, my daughter suddenly asked, “What music is this?”

“The blues.”

She listened, then said, “I hate the blues.”

I laughed.  Old spirituals?  Who could listen to those?  Things picked up for her with the Beatles, but she kept flipping the case around in her hand.  The name Lead Belly?  What the heck?  Like the line in a Carver short story, my daughter is a long tall drink of water. She’s funny and smart, and lovely and prickly in all kinds of ways.  Driving through that rainstorm, in this summer of so much downfall, I felt my own version of the blues hammering down on me; perhaps it’s the place in my life right now, in these tempestuous forties, but so many people I know are singing the blues.  Looking at my daughter from the edges of my eyes, I didn’t bother to remark that someday she will be riding her own vehement blues, through that particularly human experience of grief, and unfulfilled longing, and desire all churned up in a maelstrom.  But not too much I couldn’t help wishing; enough of the blues to render the sweet genuinely savory, but not so much to twist and distort my girl, this fine and good young woman.

All the way there, we talked, talked, talked.  On the return trip, I followed the Mad River Valley, and then crossed over the mountains in a misty rain, with only my poor self for company.  Not until I was nearing home did the rain cut back and the clouds lightened to mere rags of mist.  I took a slightly different road, along Stagecoach Road, where the farm fields spread green as giant sheets of emeralds, with great pockets of black mud. On my way to work, I will be back soon enough, tracing this path around Elmore Mountain, noticing whether the fields have dried, remembering the masses of apple blossoms this May and looking for signs of fruit fattening.  But all the while, I will be wondering what stories my daughter is gathering and how she will eagerly tell me, You really won’t believe this! Until then, how much I will miss her laughter.

the world … was not enough for (my mother) without me in it,
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea–none of it
was enough, for her, without me.

— Sharon Olds

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