Sowing poems

May 30th, 2008

Last night I booted up the computer, stared at the screen, and shut it right back down. These foggy-mind days of sleep deprivation drain me; after the boys have gone to bed I am too tired to think clearly, to do anything deliberately, but when I try to go to bed my mind is frantically finishing off all the half-finished thoughts of the day. I try to capture them but they flutter faster than hummingbird wings – I can hear them whirring and see the blur of their existence but I cannot isolate an individual thought. I stare at the blank screen. I stare at the blank journal page. I hover over a poem that needs editing, pen in hand, but the words swim on the page and I cannot bring the presence of mind necessary for the deliberate work of revision. I have many many first drafts, practice poems, nice lines that need the deliberate work of revision but my mind balks from the task.

I know C will not wake up three times a night forever. I know it is just because he rolls onto his front and cannot roll back over – and the knowing of this keeps me awake, too, peeking into his crib constantly to make sure he is not trapped on his stomach slowly suffocating, the knowing of this keeps the sleep I do get light and troubled with a part of my mother-brain always listening for a cry of trouble. I know A will settle into his new big-boy bed and stop calling for Dada in the night – he wants Dada in the middle of the night, not me, but the call, of course, wakes me as well. I know this will pass and that I should simply accept this time for what it is: the time of my baby’s babyhood. A time to take advantage of the way sleep deprivation can, in fact, allow me to access sudden strange places of creativity. Maybe this is my season of drafts. It is spring, after all, here in this farming region. The time of planting. Maybe I should take a deep breath, learn from my farming in-laws. Sow now, reap later.

Family lost, family found

May 21st, 2008

I grew up not knowing much about my extended family. My paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother died before I was born. My maternal grandfather died shortly after I turned four. I have a few memories of him, the sort of memories a three-year old would have: brief flashes, an image of a living room, a face – memories reinforced by photographs so that it is hard to be certain if they are truly my memories at all. My paternal grandmother moved across the country when I was eight, perhaps younger. There were short visits after that – she and my mother did not get along – and she died when I was fourteen. One set of cousins was a dozen states away; another set – my mother’s brother – lived nearby and we used to get together when I was young but for some reason contact ended abruptly. I imagine some sort of falling out between my mother and uncle, but I don’t really know.

But beyond these deaths and absences, these fallings-out and strained relationships, it was the general atmosphere of silence and secrets in my house that kept me from knowing my family. We were not a family of stories, we were not a family of family histories. That’s not uncommon in an alcoholic household. My mother did not like telling stories – at least, she did not like telling stories she could not control; she did not like revealing information that she, for whatever reason, deemed dangerous – and I quickly learned not to ask questions. It was a good survival technique for a young girl, but I regret it now.

I do not know how my parents met. I do not know why they waited so long to have children. I do not know my maternal grandmother’s maiden name and I’m not entirely sure how she died. I don’t know when her family arrived in the US. I don’t know how she and my grandfather met. I don’t know if she had siblings. I don’t know what any of my cousins – those four children of my mother’s brother with whom I used to play – are doing today or where they are living or if they have children of their own. I do know that my maternal grandfather was Swedish, but I do not know where his family came from or when they emigrated to the US, or why. And with both my parents dead there is nobody to ask even if I belonged to the kind of family that talked about this sort of thing.

After my parents died and before I married I often felt rootless. There’s a line from a Shawn Colvin song, “I’ve given nobody life, I am nobody’s wife, and I seem to be nobody’s daughter” that sums up how I felt for many years. I had no family history to connect me to the past, and I had no offspring to drive me into the future. Even after I married, married into a Swiss family that could trace its family tree back about 400 years, I felt like a jigsaw puzzle piece that had fallen out of the box. When my first son was born, my family, my blood family, suddenly had two generations. A doubling of my connections, but still my history was a blurry mystery.

Until Sunday.

Sunday, out of curiosity, I googled my maternal grandfather. He was quite an amateur photographer in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; I have some prints of his that still bear the ribbons they were awarded in local showings. I was looking through family snapshots. I got curious and typed in his name. The first result that popped up was a link to a family tree website hosted by somebody with my maternal grandfather’s last name. I clicked through to the site, and it appears that his father and my grandfather were brothers – my grandfather had four siblings who lived to adulthood. I had only known about one. I spent the afternoon looking through his family tree; there is information there that matches what I know; many of the sources he used to verify his findings are foot-noted. I have a feeling that it’s reliable.

It traces the Swedish branch of my family back to before 1730. I have gone from rootless to seven Swedish generations in the blink of an eye. And that’s just my grandfather’s paternal line. I haven’t even begun to dig around his maternal line. There are people out there with my grandfather’s name, with my blood, with my son’s funny ears and high smooth forehead. There are people out there, my people. I have people.

My how I love the internet.

Protected: My father’s hands

May 19th, 2008

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Protected: water birth

May 13th, 2008

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That’s me running around on the field

May 12th, 2008

I love this line from Trish: “Emerging writers are just seven year old kids, playing their hearts out and hoping that someone on the sideline thinks they’ve got potential.” That’s where I am with my poetry right now: full of the enthusiasm of a seven year kid (and perhaps sometimes turning a phrase as clumsily as one) just playing the game. There are days when I believe I am talented. There are days when I’m full of doubt. But mostly, these days, I’m running around kicking words like a ball and laughing to see which direction they fly off in. I’m having fun; even the work of revision is fun. In fact, the work of revision is often more fun than the rush of the first draft. Honing, fine-tuning, molding something raw into something with form and shape and purpose. Finding just the right word and putting it in just the right place. For now this is enough, knowing that I enjoy this.

I want more. I’ve got plans for more. I’m working towards more. But I also want to enjoy running around barefoot on the cool grass kicking balls with all the passion only a seven year old can muster.

On this day

May 8th, 2008


Days – an entire week of days – slip through my fingers like faerie dust. Where do the days go? I wake up, I get the boys ready for the day, I turn around and it is bedtime and we are wrestling two children through baths and toothpaste and the last story and bed. Exhausted, I go to bed not long after the small ones even though much of my work remains undone. I have done the work of raising my sons, of arching an eyebrow to remind A to say merci and bitte; of explaining to him why that tree didn’t have leaves all winter and of going into too much detail with the sap retreating into the root system and of trying again with pictures when he says “I didn’t understand;” of watching him so confidently board the bus and find a seat; of making lunch with him. This work I have done.

The work that wheels around in my head, the words, the half-formed poem, the hundred thoughts that I never seem able to think through to completion, this work remains undone and I drive home from my in-law’s farm glancing at the clock on the dashboard wondering how it got to be past dinner time already and another day gone. Then I pass through the Grauholz, clear the trees, and get that view. That view. It could be worse, failing to get words on paper in this place, with these boys, on this day. It could be worse.