February 13, 2017

Alan King

HOW IT FEELS

When your mother-in-law takes your daughter
out of her crib after the crying,

after you said she’s not hungry ’cause she threw up,
after you told her your daughter rocks to sleep easy but cries
when you put her back in the crib,

when your child’s grandmother takes her out
after you told her not to,

you remember the rose bush you and
your wife chopped down—the one that blocked
the living room window, that bullied away sunlight—

and you know this grandmother’s stubborn
love for her grandchild gashes your authority
the way the thorny bush prickled your hand, arms and legs
in its bold resistance, its open disregard
for what you wanted.

No one tells you parenting is like gardening,
where you defend your choices from parasites posing
as unwarranted advice, where insecurities bred by
Judgment and Condescension can brown your confidence.

When you watch your mother-in-law holding
your child after you told her not to,

you know how your wife felt that first night home
from the hospital, when your parents came by and
could only seem to unload their criticisms
at how she handled her child.

And if Compassion’s a deep sorrow for other’s misfortune,
do you forgive the know-it-all grandparents their transgressions,
how they selectively forget their mistakes?

Isn’t Humility an ingredient of Compassion, the one that
asks the grandparents to see themselves as they once were—
green in their new role?

You remember your parents fumbling in the dark
of what they didn’t understand, how their trial and
error traumatized your childhood—

how it pushed your brother into a homeless shelter and
his mental illness, your brother spiraling in his orbit of pain,
light years away from forgiveness.

When your child’s grandmother takes her out
of her crib, you take your child back, say:
“I love you … but I got this.”

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]

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Alan King: “In middle school, a friend wrote a poem. I told him I didn’t like it. I took up his challenge to write a better poem. I’ve been writing ever since. Every time I approach the page is a challenge to write a better poem.” (website)