The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

By Sarah Harwell

The way my daughter sleeps it's as if she's talking
to the dead. Now she is one. I watch her eyes roll
backwards in her head, her senses fold

one by one, and then her breathing quiets to a beat.
Every night she fights this silent way of being
with all the whining ammunition she has.

She wins a tired story, a smothered song, the small
and willful links to life that carry her away.
Welcome to the Egyptian burial. She's gone to Hades

with her stuffed animals. When she wakes,
the sad circles disappeared, she blinks
before she knows me. I have listened

to one million breaths of her. And every night
my body seizes when she leaves to go
where I am not, and yet every night I urge her, go.


From Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "Whether a child recklessly runs into traffic or clings until peeled off, every mother must balance keeping said child safe while urging him or her to self-reliance," writes Mary Karr. "The mother in Sarah Harwell's 'Dead' recounts one of the small miseries of parenting: nightly wrestling a wakeful child toward sleep, which -- in mythological terms -- is within the kingdom of Hades. Harwell's frustration leads her to examine how she implanted the daughter's clinginess since her own body seizes when the child finally 'leaves to go/where I am not.'"

Karr adds that the poem's form echoes the speaker's dilemma. "The first stanza has two end rhymes: rOll/fOld -- a pattern of matching that devolves into deliberate half-matching and finally unmatching ends of lines: bEat/bEing; awAy/HAdes; waKes/blinKs. In the last stanza, there's a perfect twinning: 'she leaves to GO'/'I urge her, GO.' On an unconscious level, this final replication exceeds the early rhyme but also thwarts it when the two sounds become identical (as the mother and daughter must not). The mother's relief at the child's departure ultimately prompts self-indictment for ordering the girl into Hell. Without such boundless rivers of guilt, maternal love would be cheap stuff. Hardly worth celebrating."

Not having had enough of sheep last weekend (because how could anyone have enough of sheep, really), we went Saturday once the rain stopped to Frying Pan Farm Park's Sheep and Wool Day, where we got to see all the animals at Kidwell Farm -- a 1920s dairy farm, with alpacas, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, horses, and of course sheep and cows -- plus the blacksmith shop and country store on the premises that sells fresh eggs and cleaned wool from the farm. There were crafts -- I made a lanyard weaving loops of fluffy yarn over my fingers -- and sheep shearing all afternoon, plus a chance to visit with and pet this year's lambs. It wasn't very crowded in the craft tent, where people were demonstrating dyeing, carding, spinning and knitting, and the weather was gorgeous, mostly overcast and not too chilly. Some baby animals for Mother's Day:


Adam was being amusing this morning and asked what if Daisy's name wasn't really Daisy -- the people we adopted her from told us that it was, but what if they were wrong? So I was quoting Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to him about the naming of cats, and we ended up deciding that we should subject our children to the DVD of the London staging of Cats whose date I have been unable to ascertain but it must have been the 1990s; it has Elaine Paige, the original Grizabella, and Ken Page, who played Old Deuteronomy on Broadway, and John Mills, who was not the original Gus but is probably better known than anyone who did. I haven't watched any version of Cats in a decade -- since before I had cats or saw the Russell Hotel! -- and it was enormous fun.

Happy Mother's Day, if you are a mother or have a mother or know a mother...I will be with my mother and mother-in-law, meaning my husband has been put in charge of the festivities! *g*

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