Mara invited us last week to think about how writing poetry can give us an imaginative avenue to understand the experience of a person from another place, time, or culture. The process of exploring, creating and refining a text into a concentrated poem can also give us access to empathy or understanding for members of our own families, people in our inner circle whom we assume we know fully. Like the DNA that links us to one another, our features, talents, preferences, fears and joys, tendencies and reactions can follow a complex and intertwined pattern. There can be moments of surprise that enlighten us to radical differences. There are also moments of great awareness of kinship beyond what we thought or knew; the recognition can be both grounding and liberating, both terrifying and comforting.
Heeding the yellow light at Warner Road my foot squeezes the brake,
eyes roving left, right, back to the mirror. The red light gives me time
to reach into the marshmallow bag, hand three to each quarrelsome
car-seated voice (Pink! I want a pink!) and to grope for the ones that dropped.
I manage to catch the light changing to green, and swivel again to the seething
Alma School Road before anyone can honk or race an engine at me.
It was then for a second my mother looked out from behind my eyes,
through my eyes – she saw the same intersection riddled with danger
streets steeped in uncongenial movement on the lanes.
I blinked and shook my head, felt the hair on my neck begin to rise.
Suddenly I was driving an enormous station wagon, no seat belts in sight,
four children all elbows tumbling into each other at every turn,
a roiling, bickering mass of juvenile confusion. I want to cry,
Stop that screaming! Do you want me to hit a truck?
That would have been my mother's voice, her threat
I now realize was her fear. I say, Let's use calm voices for the car
and hand back another dose of sugary pillows.
It happened again just before we got to school. I felt my face
reshape itself and we were stern worried women
alone in a car hurtling toward a crash, shepherding kicking lambs
along a high speed chase, and very much afraid.
All the safety features and vigilance quiver
as the mother's eyes rake the road ahead.
What will hit my children? And how hard will they land?
Will it be a tragic accident (news at eleven) or a violent hand,
or the sound of glass tinkling above depression, eyes tightly closed,
arms flung about their heads? Or will there be a cushion of drugs,
or the lostness of vague plans that never quite take shape?
A clammy smell lingers in the air as I park the car in a shady space.
I take a small shaky breath, my face firm again behind my hands.
My children, still secured, bored in their separate safety,
wait for me to come around. I hold tight to the illusion of control,
which has worked better than you'd think for a long, long time.
It's now I can't keep the wheel from bucking in my hands.
--Karen Lynn Erickson
Invitation for your writing:
Write a paragraph full of concrete details describing a family member who is very like you. How do you resemble one another? Then write another paragraph about a family member who seems very different from you. How is this person unlike you? Compare the two paragraphs, and note if there is any surprising resemblance between the two descriptions, any unforeseen kinship or paradox or new awareness. Write a poem about the surprises and insights arising from family likeness, and from perceptions of individuality within kinship.