The Head of the Household
By Ingrid de Kok
is a girl of thirteen
and her children are many.
Left-overs, moulting gulls,
wet unweaned sacks
she carries them under her arms
and on her back
though some must walk beside her
bearing their own bones and mash
when not on the floor
in sickness and distress
rolled up in rows
facing the open stall.
Moon and bone-cold stars
for ambulance, hearse,
the delivery vans
that will fetch and dispatch
the homeless, motherless
unclean and dead
and a girl of thirteen,
children in her arms,
house balanced on her head.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, a column on de Kok, whose new volume of selected poems is about the end of apartheid in South Africa. "De Kok offers, among other things, a vision of her country through the lens of poetry. The social problems and political history of South Africa sharpen a general question for art: How does a relatively privileged artist register deprivation or suffering without emphasizing her advantaged viewpoint? How to avoid condescension, exoticism or mere tongue-clicking?" asks Pinsky. In the poem above, "the concluding rhyme of 'dead' and 'head'; other phrases and sounds, such as 'rolled up in rows' and 'fetch and dispatch'; the arresting, unconventional images of children as 'moulting gulls' and 'unweaned sacks'; the heartbreaking yet antic final image of the child with a 'house balanced on her head' on a continent where people do carry things balanced on the head: All are part of the poem's imaginative energy. Simple phrases such as "sickness and distress" establish moral, as well as stylistic, balance. At the same time, the poem's inventive movement and sound, its fresh imagery, convey empathy as an active striving, not a settled or complacent state. The engaged kinetic work of de Kok's language, manifesting the distance between poet and child, constitutes respect for that other soul, vivid and distinct."
I spent nearly all of a glorious Saturday outdoors following a morning of drizzle -- the meteorologists had it exactly backwards. Older son was volunteering in my mother's Hebrew school class and younger son had soccer, so it wasn't like we could all go anywhere before lunch anyway, and afterward we had many choices -- it was Smithsonian's free exchange day with several local museums, including the aviation museum in College Park and the B&O Railroad museum in Baltimore, plus it was Rock Creek Park day. We opted for the latter, which ended up being the perfect choice, since the temperature never broke 65 in the woods where the festivities took place, the leaves were just starting to change, it wasn't very crowded and the Reptiles Alive and Raptor Conservancy of Virginia people were there, just like last year, as were the safety and conservation displays, climbing wall, etc. dark_cygnet, this is for you:
This is a barred owl who was badly injured and cannot be released into the wild. Her name is Hipster because she shattered her hipbone.
One little screech owl (female) blinded in a collision with a car...
...and another little screech owl (male) also injured in a car accident...
and a hybrid falcon, bred and imprinted upon by humans, who cannot survive in the wild and is not supposed to be released because it's not one species or another.
After the raptor show, we started to drive home but it was still gorgeous out, so we went for a walk at Locust Grove Nature Center. The nature center itself was closed but there are a couple of miles of hiking trails where we walked along the creek, skipped stones, watched water skeeters and looked at the leaves just beginning to change near our own neighborhood. As we came around the final part of the path toward the parking lot, there was a stag in the woods not 50 feet from us. Then, when we drove home, there were three female deer right in the backyard of one of our neighbors! These are neat to see but also yet more proof that our area is horribly overdeveloped and the deer have nowhere to go if they want to eat and reach the creek.
I know I am supposed to be ranting about the Senate and loss of civil rights, and I found out yesterday that one of my elderly relatives has Alzheimer's (his memory has been shaky for the past couple of years and he's having trouble taking care of himself, but he'd not had any of the pre-indicators so everyone was hopeful that it was something -- anything -- else), but I am feeling a great need to avoid depression and rage at the moment so am choosing not to dwell on such things here. Lived in denial tonight after dinner by watching Atlantis' "38 Minutes" which I enjoyed a lot -- Rodney so cute when panicking and craving food too, which I can totally identify with! And sometimes Letterman makes me howl: Top Ten Chapter Titles In Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's Book. Can deal with political incorrectness much better than the true political insanity sweeping the highest offices.
If I miss being around before sundown tomorrow, have a good fast!