Motherhood & Words

On Friday night, D. and I went to see Figaro at Teatre de la Jeune Lune. We don’t do this sort of thing very often, and that afternoon I almost wished we weren’t going. I had a gazillion things to do, I was exhausted, and we were babysitting Stella’s cousin. Our house was strewn with toys and bits of half-chewed food (one of my nephew’s special talents).

When my dad came over, I rushed to shower and make myself presentable, and D. and I dashed out the door, leaving my dad with the two kids. (My sister picked up her little guy shortly thereafter. Dad was fine.)

I was actually feeling so tired and anxious that I didn’t think I would enjoy the evening, but as we drove downtown, I could feel myself starting to let go of the week, of all the little (and big) stresses that build up and convince me, usually, that we are too busy to go out.

D. and I picked up our tickets at the theater and walked across the street to Origami for sushi. Years ago, D. and I fell in love eating out, leaning over small tables in darkened restaurants, and I always forget how much this means to us—sitting across from each other eating food that someone else has prepared.

When we walked back to the theater an hour later, I was giddy with excitement. I had never seen a performance at the Jeune Lune (pathetic, I know), and I was excited to see the daughters of one of my Loft students perform (both her daughters are opera singers/actresses).

The show was amazing. They were amazing. Mozart is, of course, amazing. I had goose bumps, my whole body tingling. Their voices. How is it even possible to sound like that? The wonderful surprise—oh you can do that?! Oh, you can go there?! I sat there, in the darkened theater, holding D.’s hand, and thought, if there is a God, he is here, in these voices, in this place. (It sounds so clichéd to have thought that, but I really did.)

A friend recently told me that she hasn’t been writing much lately, but instead has been quilting. I said that sometimes it’s good to step away for a bit, gain perspective, do something different. She nodded, and said it was an interesting break from words, and that it felt like creative cross training.

That’s how I felt at the Jeune Lune, like I was cross training. That tingle, that amazement.

I felt the same way when I read Deborah Garrison’s new book, The Second Child. I didn’t know Garrison’s work until a couple of weeks ago when I received one of those poetry e-mails from Knopf. This kind of marketing doesn’t always work on me, but because my summer class was about to begin and I was still looking for material, I ran out and bought Garrison’s book.

Garrison’s poems are so carefully crafted, so lovely, and she has this wonderful ability to capture a moment, stopping time and suspending a gesture. I could go on and on about almost every poem in this collection, but instead I’ll share this one with you:

Dad, You Returned to Me Again

The transparent clarity
of childhood happiness,
like water.

That colorless sparkling,
tasteless but so fresh.
To drink, or ribboning over
a large stone along the brambled
bank of a river I remember.
Said to be a large wily brown
trout under there.

Two children astride me
in rumpled bed this A.M.,
and when she petted
his baby head, crooning a word
almost his name,
his eyes hooked her face,
his hands discovered applause
in halting pace:

clap (pause) clap clap!
Their mingled laughter,
the nickname,
the merry clap-clap,
the jerking bright giggles

so free I dropped through time
and saw again the iridescence
across the belly of a trout
slipping whole in my hand
in sunlight for just long enough
to see not the usual liverish
speckling of brown but the spray
of pink, pale blue, gold-yellow
you said meant
and I grasped him, wet and muscular,
smuggled in our air
for a wild moment before your
expert hand unhooked
and slipped him back.

Poetry and opera do the same thing for me, a prose writer: I can sit back and let the words, the music rush over me, and I am reminded of what is possible.

Posted in ,


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Will Elliott on June 10, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    I happened upon your latest post by accident, but fell into reading it with a great deal of ease. I really connected with your experience of “creative cross training,” and I’m also glad that you were able to carve out a time for peace for yourself. Not easy as an individual. Nearly impossible as a parent. All the best to you in your living and writing.

  2. Sheri on June 12, 2007 at 12:05 am

    dear god. love the poem. so good. let me know if you’d ever be interested in doing a review for us over at totally ordering the book now.