Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the size of the smallest thing


It has something to do with ugliness,
even more, perhaps, with aggression,
but horseflies inspire no affection,
even though they're superb pilots.

Maybe because once they were squirmy,
furry things, butterflies seem content
with their sudden beauty, no interest
in getting anywhere fast.

The small brown bird outside my window
has a lilt and a tune. Elsewhere, a baby
is screeching. Watch out, little ones,
there are hawks, there are sleep-deprived

parents, utterly beside themselves.
When I was a child I claimed a grasshopper
hopped over a rock like a rockhopper.
"He likes to play with language," my mother

told her friends. "He's so smart."
She used to hide money in a coffee can,
place it behind the wooden matches
in the cupboard. I swear I never stole it.

She was beautiful, as was our neighbor
with the red jewel on her forehead.
That there's so little justice in the world—
one of them believed, the other experienced.

To ants a sparrow might as well be
a pterodactyl, and a parrot just one more
bright enormity to ignore
as they go about their business. I've tried

to become someone else for a while,
only to discover that he, too, was me.
I think I must learn to scrunch down
to the size of the smallest thing.

Stephen Dunn

* * *

It is dark outside, and dinner is over, and the dishes lay in the sink. I have a few more hours before Poetry Wednesday comes to an end, but I want to post this poem I found in this week's New Yorker while I still have time. I like its intimate stream-of-consciousness style, as if a pesky horsefly started it and then the discrepancies rolled out seamlessly. That is, until the culmination, which then strikes me as so thoughtful and deliberate if all the other ideas take shape, "I've tried / to become someone else for a while, / only to discover that he, too, was me."

I cannot recall a more difficult summer than the one now winding its way down amidst rainy humidity. Each dramatic, exhausting event followed closely on the heels of the one before it, and despite a full five weeks of "vacation" time, I recall only perhaps a handful of days that seemed like vacation. If anything I long for tedious regularity, a week without incident, drama, or emergency. The kind of week where I can follow through on planned meals and put in regular office hours.

Yesterday, in a furious attempt to make up for the all the "nesting" I've been denied due to the bedbug fiasco, I fell off a bar stool while drilling holes for curtain rod mounting. I managed to break my fall in ways I cannot fathom, and landed squarely on my behind—crying more from surprise and fear then pain. I called my doctor nonetheless. This is second call I've put in in a week, the first because the flu shot I received swelled up painfully and gave me a black-and-blue mark the size of a tennis ball. Even after the noxious bedbug chemicals were cleared from my apartment a few weeks ago, it has been nonstop drama here. A brouhaha staged by my mother-in-law takes the cake, lasting nearly two weeks and still ongoing. It has reached a level of absurdity that is the stuff of literary comedy. I fear, though, that this comedy will end in a standoff, as at the present moment I fear I wouldn't be capable of having a civil conversation with her. She's recently threatened to fly out here to force her will upon us, and every time the door bell rings I tremble with fear that she might have done just that. Lord have mercy, it's only the UPS man.

It all makes me want to scrunch down a bit more, find some place inside myself that is silent. Someplace where my mind doesn't lay hold of the pasta dried on the floor or the fruit flies circling, endlessly worrying about roaches and bedbugs and the length of curtain rods. Someplace where I am still and tiny: a me who isn't drawn into a power struggle with my mother-in-law or in a fit about getting things done(!) before the baby comes. There is a baby inside me, very scrunched, after all. And my body is her home for two more months. She is among the smallest of human things, and she cannot care about the fruit flies or her brother's far-flung pasta bunnies—and for the moments she is still me.

{ p o e t r y   w e d n e s d a y }


Julia said...

Amber, I was able to come and read the poem last week but somehow I got pulled away from getting to read the rest of the post. I love your writing. Your life really does seem to be taken over right now by externals (and, of course, the very important internal fact of the person inside of you, which is still, in a way, external to your inner life, which is what I think you're talking about here). I hope that things can settle down for you soon. Maybe all of this is preparing you for being a mother of two. I can testify that although some phases have been just as crazy as this one you're going through, they are punctuated by more settled phases in which it's possible to plan meals and even invite a non-family member over to a meal now and then after you've put the house in order and rid the floor of all the hardened pasta least for one evening before starts all over again. And I just want to reiterate that I love your writing! This made me laugh.

Bethany Patchin said...

Lovely. Lovely. I am scrunched inside myself All The Time. Don't know how else to cope.