Friday, September 04, 2020

Poetry Friday: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Interruption"

The "interruptions" are different these days. 

My two oldest daughters have moved out. Only Ramona is at home, taking a well-earned gap year (which makes immense sense during a pandemic) after graduating from Green Gables Homeschool in May. 

I wrote this poem (or rather, stole some lines from Wallace Stevens and worked around them) ten years ago. Anne-with-an-e and Betsy were in their teens, but Ramona was only eight years old, so I was still sometimes up in the night with a child who was sick, or scared, or needed me in some unspoken way. 

But even with teens, a mother is up in the night: worrying while they're driving home after midnight ... talking to them on the couch, in quiet whispers at 2 a.m. ... tending to tears or heartbreak; other times sharing in laughter and giddy discovery. These days, those talks might start in a text, or a Marco Polo. That's a gift, too. 

When I was twenty years old, when I met Atticus and we started dating, neither of us wanted children. We knew it. We were firm. We would never change our minds. We would not countenance such an interruption to our lives. 

Thank God for crumbling paradigms and fresh and frightening starts that shake us to our core. 

Thank God for interruptions. 


Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Interruption 

by Karen Edmisten

(With apologies to Wallace Stevens. Original lines from his poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird are in italics. Obviously, all the good lines are his. The children, however, are mine.)

In the stillness of night,
The only moving thing
is a child.

I was of three minds:
sleep, motherhood, sleep.

I pretended not to care that I was awakened.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
There is my "to do" list, and then there is God's.
These are not the same thing.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a child
Are one.
Add, mix and stir: my daughters' "to do" lists are mine.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The life with the child
or the thought of that life.

Chatter filled the long day
The company of children
Transformed a mood. Sometimes
for better. Sometimes ... not.

O, dear control-freak-self,
Why do you imagine a different life?
Do you not see how the life
you've been given is unspeakable gift?

I know of a tidy life,
of elegance, rhythm and control.
But I know, too, That a child is involved
In what I know.

When my children have grown,
They will mark the edge
Of one of many circles.
I will be grateful for their imprint.

At the sight of children
I used to say, "Not for me, please.
An unwelcome interruption."
But something shifted. I gave myself
Over to motherhood, and held on tight.

Once, a fear pierced me,
that I would never rise to this task,
would not die to self.

3:20 a.m.: A nightmare. She needs me more
than I need this sleep. 
I rise. I go.
A child will not wait for morning.

It was nighttime all day.
I loved her and I was going to love her.
The child sat entwined in my limbs.
The interruption sweetly complete.


Find more posts about Wallace Stevens here


 The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink


Tabatha said...

Ha ha, someone asked me yesterday how I am spending my time these days and I said that I am doing interruptible things. Love your poem! You intertwine the lines and thoughts very well. xo

penelope said...

Karen, this is completely beautiful. What a fine wordsmith you are! Blessings, and thank you for sharing with us :-)

My Thomas is 18 now and freshly hatched from our homeschool, and like your Ramona is taking a gap (C19) year (at home) ... what times we are living in! But how odd it is, sitting with the reality of the youngest being finished! After all these years of blessed homeschooling and childrearing, now the hatchery is empty and the season of mothering young-folk is shifting to something new, with outlines yet blurred ...

jama said...

Love this so much!! Beautiful, tender, candid, amusing, heartfelt, true, reflective . . . I think Stevens would like it too! :)

Janice Scully said...

So much that is true in this poem. I never thought much about having children but then in my late thirties had two boys. I can't imagine not having had them in my life. Lovely post.

Linda B said...

Not only when babies, but time in the night with teens is truth, too, Karen. I remember & now am grateful to have a bit of the bounty you've shown through grandchildren. This is so beautiful and loving.

Kay said...

This is beautiful. These months have been filled with interruptions. These lines speak to me today:

There is my "to do" list, and then there is God's.
These are not the same thing.

laurasalas said...

Hehehe--"Obviously, all the good lines are his. The children, however, are mine.)" Your lines are wonderful, too. It's like you guys are singing a duet. I esp love XI and XIII. Wonderful!

Karen Edmisten said...

Tabatha: "...doing interruptible things." I love that. :)
Penelope, we are in the same post-homeschooling/gap/C-19 boat! "Something new, with outlines yet blurred." Yes.
Jama, thank you! I picture Stevens with a skeptical look. :)
Janice, yes, it's hard to imagine life without these people.
Thank you, Linda! I'm looking forward to the grandma stage!
Kay, thanks. Those "to do" lists are unpredictable. :)
Laura, thanks so much! I love the duet imagery. :)

Carol Varsalona said...

Karen, within your wonderful and tender poem lies the following lines that touched me and gave me pause.
"There is my "to do" list, and then there is God's.
These are not the same thing."
Interruptions are not of our choosing and while I wonder why, I should recognize that God is the supreme organizer. I need time to ponder more about what you wrote. Many thanks.

Michelle Kogan said...

They are wonderful interruptions as your poem is–it reads as one, rich and flowing, thanks Karen.