Thanks to Ethan Joella for today's lovely post about writing after becoming a parent. I particularly enjoy his opening line, "My real poems came after my daughters" and how he shows the transition between an experience and the creation of poetry.
Ethan Joella teaches English and psychology at University of Delaware. He is editor-at-large at Referential and a poetry reader at Ploughshares as well as a 2008 Eric Hoffer Award finalist and a 2010 Robert Olen Butler Award finalist. Additionally, his work has appeared or will appear in Best New Writing 2008, The International Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, Rattle, Berkeley Fiction Review, Cicada, The American, The Collagist, and The Delmarva Review.
My real poems came after my daughters.
Maybe because with my children also came increased age and insight or maybe because I haven’t slept one good night since they were born and this lack of sleep has spiked my general sensitivity. Maybe I look down more because I hear their voices or because they are reaching for my hand, and this looking down makes me notice more hyacinths and acorns and patterns and grooves in concrete that a poet is required to notice. As I put the last touches on my chapbook manuscript this week, I write the dedication to my wife Rebecca and our daughters; I call them my three reasons.
All poets should follow children around. Once in summer, while we drove in evening over a bridge by the beach, my older daughter said there was an “egg sun” in the pink sky. My younger daughter told me this winter that some snow is “diamond snow.” I was a poet since I was six or so, even writing and photocopying a poem called “Spring” for my first-grade classmates over thirty years ago, but I have stayed a poet because I am a father of these two girls. They are beautiful and brilliant and fun, and almost everything they do, from leaving a sock in the backseat of my car to making me read Velveteen Rabbit to naming a Valentine’s balloon Bob, wrecks me. Some of my favorite poems I have written have come from being with them.
Once, my younger daughter Frankie and I went for lunch on a quiet weekday. After we ate, we went outside with our ice cream. It was early spring, and she ran off and stood in front of this overgrown wild forsythia bush bursting with its yellow star flowers. I just watched her there, so small in her red sweater and leopard pants, and I realized that these moments with children were so hurried and limited. I couldn’t stop looking at her because I didn’t want to forget what this girl and this season looked like. That night, I wrote the poem “Windows” with this closing:
I hope one day
you see somewhere
a hint of flower
the day in April when it was us, and the world
was a bit smaller
with a thousand small suns
My older daughter Gia, while riding her Sleeping Beauty bike around the garage, looked at me one day when she was five and said, “I don’t want you to die.” Her hair hung in her eyes, and her small hands held the pink handlebars with white streamers. The garage door was open on that autumn day, and brown leaves tumbled from the driveway to where I stood. She had risked so much to tell me this, and there was nothing I could say to fix how she felt. From that, the poem “Circles” came:
I can’t look away
from her eyes. Her training wheels scrape
the concrete floor.
Look, I say, at the leaves.
The writer Anne Tyler said, “It seems to me that since I've had children, I've grown richer and deeper…when I did write, I had more of a self to speak from.” I don’t remember who I was before these daughters entered my world, and I actually don’t want to remember. When my first poem by a respected literary journal was accepted for publication and my chapbook was accepted a few weeks later, I started to think maybe after years of rejection, I was getting something right. I had found that necessary voice and self to speak from that Tyler talks about. Being a poet gives me the chance to catalogue these fleeting, magical moments of parenthood. Much like the Velveteen rabbit, I, too, am real now.