Most days seem little more than furious treading,
all arms and legs churning just to stay afloat,
but there are moments when I am able, briefly,
to stop kicking, kicking, kicking my way through.
Body still in an amniotic calm, eyes open
to the balm of sky and light, I recognize the sea
of these years as the place I have spent
my whole life swimming toward, from the time
I was little more than a seed tethered
by one gnarled root, and all I want is to float here
forever, feel the waters of these days with every inch
of skin, my spirit buoyed and rocked by them.
But now, as then, my head turns to the shadow
of the coming shore. As I measure the distance
between myself and that inevitable coast,
unable to deny the currents of time or the futility
of treading, the lilting waves rise into swells
of sweet pain, salt flooding the gates
of my eyes, breaching the barrier of my lips,
and my animal limbs begin their windmilling once again.
We swim above boulders of loss,
our bodies sliding through
the mute shadows they cast.
I once thought we might move beyond
them, but I now suspect
they stretch to the opposite shore.
I remember a time
when this sea was a playground
and we frolicked with abandon.
Now it is an open plain we must cross;
vast fields of water
that mirror the sky’s infinite tides.
Too often we are caught
in separate currents, but still
we swim here together,
our children a tiny school of trailing fish.
Sometimes I think my love
for them might drown me, my body
slowly sinking beneath the weight of it,
bulky as a box I cannot get my arms around.
Sometimes I imagine letting go of it,
setting it upon the roll of a wave
and watching it drift until it looks no
bigger than a ball, a bottle, a doll.
Sometimes I wish I were a mighty ship,
with a sharp bow that could slice neatly through
these waters that constantly surprise me,
my steel hull an impenetrable hold
in which to store it.
But sometimes I know
this love is not something I carry
but something I am, and I am more
the water I swim in than anything else,
more than flesh or blood or bone,
more than dream or memory or desire,
and my skin is more membrane than wall,
and the sea around me, within me, stretches
as far as I can see, and I can see
that it cannot be contained or diminished,
this body that holds me, holds me holding my burdens,
the precious cargo of my existence,
and I know that what holds me will not drown me.
This morning I was looking in a book for a poem I might share here today, and I found this one tucked into its pages. I wrote it years ago, when in the thick of mothering, but I’d forgotten all about it. I know there are other poems I’ve lost. Perhaps I’ll find them again. Perhaps not. I’m sharing it here because this is my notebook, and this is one I’d like to keep.
I’m feeling a bit full of thoughts about writing these days, and about what creative work I do and why. My windmilling is winding down; my babies turn 18 in weeks, and in months they will graduate from high school. When they were born, I had roughly 6, 752 days to spend raising them. Now I have fewer than 200. I cannot believe we are so close to the shore that was only a shadow when I wrote this poem. So many days now, it feels like all I can see. I wonder what will fill my days (mind, heart) when I finally land there.
7 thoughts on “Wednesday Words 1.13.16:”
It’s interesting to me that you wrote this when you were a new mother but while I was reading it, I assumed it was a recent poem. I realized over the holidays while my parents were here that there really is no end – with children aged 37, 34, 27, and 26 – my stepdad still sat up waiting for my sister to come back after visiting with her friends. My mom still frets and hopes that we are becoming the people she raised us to be and advising and criticizing the way she always has (though as a mother myself I’m more tolerant of her constant pushing us to be better). I watch them and realize that while the responsibility of feeding us and clothing us and putting a roof over our heads is no longer theirs – all the love and concern and (at times overwhelming) job of being a parent hasn’t ended. I’m beginning to think there really is no shore. Once we enter the ocean – we never leave it.
Kate recently posted…What I’d Like to Tell Her
Well, maybe there are just a series of shores. Maybe we drift from one parenting island to another? I know that I will never stop loving and worrying about my kids. I know that I was, in some significant ways, more cause of worry to my parents when I was in my 20s than in my teens. But there is definitely a kind of ending looming for us right now. When we no longer live together day in and out, the fabric of our lives will change. I know there’s a constant changing. I wrote this when my kids were in elementary school–probably 2nd grade. Parenting now is much different from parenting then. What I was aware of then, and tried to pin down in words, is that it is all so fleeting. At the time, it feels like we’ll never be out of those waters–that despite all our furious movement we aren’t moving–but I knew we were moving, and I couldn’t stop it, much as part of me wanted to.
I think you nailed the “moving, but not moving, but moving” of parenting so perfectly!!
As you and Marian talked about below – no matter how we think we *get* parenthood until we experience it for ourselves – there really is no understanding. The words make sense but the depth of understanding just isn’t there. I think that’s probably true for each stage we go through as well. 🙂
Kate recently posted…What I’d Like to Tell Her
When I became pregnant with our daughter, just over 20 years ago, my MIL said to me, “Your life will never be the same” and I remember thinking, “Well, sure, of course things will be *different*, but I’ll still be basically the same … ” Nope. Your poem is such a lovely metaphor for this journey of parenthood, Rita.
As I think you know, our daughter is in second year university now, and although she has less to do with filling my days now, she does still fill my mind and my heart. I think Kate’s words are bang on, and there really is no shore. Or if there is a shore, it’s a completely different shore than the one we set out from 18+ years ago ….
Marian recently posted…Sock-cess!
Oh, when I think back on the things people told me that I couldn’t really understand until I experienced it! I remember attending a class for parents expecting multiples. I heard and understood all the words, but they were all abstractions. Even still, they didn’t tell me about the real change. Sure, I was tired all the time and my time was never again my own in the same way–but that’s not what was really life-changing to me. I was walloped by how fundamentally and swiftly *I* changed when those two little beings appeared into the larger world. My priorities changed and my ideas about so many other things changed. I became a very different teacher (in some ways). I feel so lucky to have experienced it.
“this love is not something I carry
but something I am” —
That is really sticking with me as something to ponder.
It reminds me a little bit of the idea that “love is a verb, not a noun”
And really sums up the way that parenthood fundamentally changes you.
Thank you for sharing this, Rita.
Sarah recently posted…Finished objects: Living room pillow covers
You are welcome. Coming to understand that love is a verb and not a noun profoundly changed several of my relationships. It certainly changed some of my actions within them. Isn’t it amazing what children do to us?