“Bells” by Julia Clare Tillinghast

Julia Clare Tillinghast


I dreamed my son was joining the army
We were driving him there in a flood
My mother-in-law and her daughters
Were in the car with us crying

I take a yellow packet of fake sugar
That says it’s made from real sugar
From the cupboard and think about gratitude
How sad I am when I wake up

And I have run out of fake sugar
How now when it’s here
I just take
And I don’t really give a fuck

There is a bad side to this kind of exercise in gratitude
Where you hear a story where you know it’s a fact
That someone brought a machine gun into a school
And shot a group of kindergarteners

And you put down your work
And you get in your car
And you drive to a school
To hold your six-year-old son
And feel how alive he is

There is truth in that gesture
There is gratitude
But it is not a good thing to every day
Think about children dying

My teacher says there is a romance
Between aspects of our body
A couple who are deeply in love
But never see each other
She goes into the apartment
And can smell
That stuff he puts in his hair after he washes it
A water glass with his kiss-place on it

A kiss so quiet now
As to be invisible

She touches everything
Plays his record
Takes a nap where his body was then leaves

The second her silhouette has vanished
The man comes home
He can feel that she’s been there

This is the human self
Desire, ambition, caution, boredom,
A bell always swinging from east
To west, the sound of the heart

How hard it is to live inside the big picture
Hard maybe impossible

We have answers but somehow not enough space in the brain
To hold them all at once

All at once which is how we really are
Alive and dead

So children’s hearts are immortal
Because we need them to be

Every moment they beat
To keep the children running

Because they are children,
And are dying
Because we cannot let them die, and we do

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets


Julia Clare Tillinghast: “Becoming a single parent is, for some, freely chosen, and undoubtedly for others, wholly determined by circumstance. However, for me and I believe for many, many single parents, it is a strange combination of choice and no choice. That is, we choose to bear a child or to separate from a partner because we must—because of a deeper demand or calling—for our physical or emotional health, because of a just-knowing deep down what is right for ourselves or our children. I believe this is similar to the choice/no choice that calls a person to be a poet or an artist of any kind. Parenthood, especially single parenthood, often forces a crisis of selfhood. Most of the things that facilitate a well-developed sense of self become scarce, very suddenly and for a long time. Poetry, on the other hand, which thank God can be written quickly, while children are sleeping (as was my poem, ‘Bells’), is one of life’s great teachers of self. Because it mandates super-heroic honesty, it can open great caverns of space—of deep truth, of moral and emotional complexity, and of undomesticated freedom—in very short periods of time. I cannot imagine being a sane parent without it.” (web)

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