“She Rings Like a Bell in the Night” by Jan LaPerle

Jan LaPerle


Yesterday my husband bought a Lincoln Town Car.
As we were driving to pick it up he said how it was once
the longest car in America. Sometimes I don’t have to imagine
what he’ll be like when he’s old. I can see,
clearly, tonight, the moon.

To the moon and back
is how I love you, I said, and what I say now
to my month-old daughter. But that’s not right;
that’s not enough. To the moon and back and back and back
when I was first getting to know my husband I lied,
told him I only wanted to be friends. I remember his eyes,
a ship through ice.

Ship-fronts scare me, and that is what I felt like pregnant—
so big and capable of so much: so much good; so much bad.
It was the bad I dwelled on. I watched videos of babies
with two heads, many legs, nothing at all for eyes.
I was sure I was ruining her, somehow, someway:
the fluffernutter, too many tuna fish sandwiches.

I thought once I gave birth I’d be relieved if she was okay.
I could sleep through the night and stop dreaming of her
sleeping in my arms, a pole for a head.

One fear replaces another. Each night now I wake
in fear that I’ve crushed her in bed. Sometimes it’s so bad
I wake the husband and the two of us, in the slight light
of the streetlight, are in there, in the king bed digging,
through pillows and sheets, looking for our baby.
Digging and digging as if our bed was the terrible ground
beneath the floorboards. We sweat, breathe heavy;
I’m crying.

The power to kill something is so strong up in me,
and so strange to be right next to the part of me
that can love something this much. It’s the sort of love
I want to tell people without children about,
as mothers and fathers once told me. But this is impossible.

And it’s impossible to think of my life before her
(as they said it would be)—to think of how it was when
I first saw my husband, how I imagined our life together
even then, even when he was someone else’s.

How quickly life can change direction. I wonder
if all couples imagine their husbands or wives old,
themselves old. I wonder if my parents had done so
when they were first married, decades before their divorce.
They couldn’t have known where their lives were going.
I wonder about the ease of a U-turn in our Lincoln Town Car.
A U-turn over the highway median: illegal. Sad.

I do not want my husband to leave me.

There are so many fears in me. When I try to fall
asleep I can hear a knocking against the headboard.
Someone is already at my door with the big, bad news.
So I sleep for a little while until the baby wakes me.
Sometimes I’m so tired when she wakes I get
so damn mad at her. Last night I set her
little screaming body on the countertop,
simple, like a set of keys. Her little hand was hitting
against the lever on the toaster. I think now it might
have looked like she was making toast. She had to hit
against something to wake me, to tell me
I was being a bad mother, selfish for wanting sleep
more than wanting to care for her, her little belly
empty as the streets (terrible when they’re empty).

The lake sits at the end of our street.
The sad boats float. One going this way, one that—
that’s how I see our marriage going sometimes.
As if our love will turn into something obligatory—
something to maintain like the lawn,
or a loosening shutter.

Something in me is loosening.
I dream each night of flying. Once, years ago,
I pranked my father, told him his house in Florida
had been hit by a storm. Pieces of his house were loosening.
I disguised my voice, made it old and cranky. The funniest part
is that he believed this voice.

Inside of me is the old fuddy-duddy I will someday be.
I feel her in there, like a pregnancy. Aren’t there so many
parts of us? Young, old, our children, parents.
Luckily, now, we have a big car—it stretches
across our driveway, ready to hold us, like a big, big hand.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Jan LaPerle: “I’m a new mother. There’s hardly much to say after that (and a whole lot more, too). I write this in the springtime, which means I’m feeling like buying new clothes and cutting off my hair. Daffodils are blooming outside my kitchen window. My husband and I just moved into a new (old) house, which we’ve been working on. We are a team, and I love that about us (and everything). He cooks for me; all I have to do is watch the daffodils. I love watching the top of my daughter Winnie’s fuzzy head when she eats. Poetry comes in the smaller moments. My baby smiles at the dog. The dog smiles at my husband. I just smile at them all.”

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