Thursday, August 28, 2008

Little Things

I just found a poem that illuminates, for me, one of the pleasures of reading Jane Austen novels that Ron doesn't enjoy--how, for a woman, concentrating on the details of getting through the day can conceal her emotions and keep her from being overwhelmed by the building crisis of her existence. Or something like that.

By driving our kids to school in the mornings, Ron has just saved me from multi-tasking overload. I reach a point where I can't keep any more of other peoples' details in my brain. It's kind of like when my friend Ben makes a shopping list; he says that when a list reaches three items, he has to begin writing it down. And please don't suggest any supermom listing strategies for me. While I hate to see a kid go without lunch, it's ultimately that kid's job to remember to take it. And if I could list all the things I have to do on any given morning, I'd have done it the night before. Sometimes, in fact, I wake up at 3 am and scrawl whatever I've forgotten on a pad I keep by my bed for that purpose.

But the little things in this poem are the person-shattering kind. They're the pattern you trace on the ER curtains, the way vacuuming the rug makes a design in the nap inside an empty house, the stranger who gets out a pair of sunglasses just like his. The poem is by Shoshauna Shy, and it's entitled Bringing My Son to the Police Station to be Fingerprinted:

My lemon-colored
whisper-weight blouse
with keyhole closure
and sweetheart neckline is tucked
into a pastel silhouette skirt
with side-slit vents
and triplicate pleats
when I realize in the sunlight
through the windshield
that the cool yellow of this blouse clashes
with the buttermilk heather in my skirt
which makes me slightly queasy

the periwinkle in the pattern on the sash
is sufficiently echoed by the twill uppers
of my buckle-snug sandals
while the accents on my purse
pick up the pink
in the button stitches

and then as we pass
through Weapons Check
it's reassuring to note
how the yellows momentarily mesh
and make an overall pleasing

When I got to the end of this poem the first time, I was startled. I looked at the page for more. That's it. And that's when the tears rose, because that's all. Anything else would mean drama, action, a mother making a scene. It's the absence of the scene that's the heroic effort.


Joe said...

You've reminded me of a poem called "What the Living Do" by Marie Howe

Not nearly so subtle, but similar in that way tiny details run up against Big Things.

I carried it in my wallet for years, although I no longer quite remember why. I think I remember when I stopped. And I suppose thinking you remember is as good as actually knowing.

Jeanne said...

Yes, less subtle but a good poem. I'll have to look up more by Marie Howe. Thanks!