Has it already been almost two weeks since I posted that poem? Well, we went again this Sunday and I brought my camera but there were no photo ops, what with the crying kids, beleaguered mother, and dad who skied back to the car so he could come pick us up. I’m not really sure why it was different this time. We did see a moose and a coyote again, the sun sank behind the poplars casting it’s predictable melted-butter glow, and we made a crackling fire in the same shack, but it wasn’t nearly as poetic as last time. We even took along the brand new binoculars the girls had purchased with their own money, to heighten the experience. (On Saturday, Stan found out his daughters were planning to order more fairy books from Scholastic and promptly took them binocular shopping instead.) But they didn’t do us much good. In fact, the girls mostly fought over them, that is, when they weren’t falling over them. (By the way, face planting with binoculars fills the lenses with snow and makes it increasingly hard to focus.) There’s probably a lesson in here somewhere, like write the poems when you live them because you never know when the next one will happen. Even if you ski the same trail…
Yesterday, what started as a perfectly civilized dinner turned into a seminar on bodily noises. Belching headlined the event; it’s a good party trick if you can do it on command. Next was the vomit imitation contest, keep your cheeks relaxed and shake vigorously for the right chunky tone. And finally, farting with your hand in your armpit. I looked around my table–at the half-eaten bowlfuls of hamburger soup, Stan’s toque perched on his head (it might come off before June, then again, it might not), the cloudy dishwasher-stained glasses, Belen’s hair falling around her face and sweeping her food, Susanna hopping around the table because she has to pee but doesn’t want to miss out on the action–and thought this is good. This is beautiful.
Normally, I might not be so touched my slip-shod table and all those rich, wet-sounding vibrations, but that morning I’d just read an article on Eden, a film depicting sex-traffing in the US. Based on the true story of Chong Kim*, the film tells the story of girls who are preyed on by young men pretending to be their boyfriends. Once the girls are captured by their “boyfriends” they are taken to warehouses filled with other teenagers, like themselves, and treated as slaves for years.
The piece provokes three different responses. The first is agony; a sort of unspoken prayer. The second is more self-centered. It’s a wave of relief that nothing this bad has ever happened to me or anyone I know. And the third is a resolution to love better; to love all the little people in my classes at school, especially the ones that drive me mad. To love my own daughters hard enough they never forget where they belong, and lightly enough they don’t want an escape. To love all the people I have the opportunity to touch. Literally. Because every one of those women lured in, and the men who leave them sore and beaten, were once little children, too. They had teachers and mothers and neighbours and uncles and coaches. And what could those teachers and mothers and neighbours, and all the rest, have done differently? Perhaps nothing. Greed, addiction, and lust are mighty animals I don’t pretend to understand or know how to tame, but maybe binocular-shopping trips with daddies, teachers who who see gifts instead of disabilities and failures, and neighbours who care, don’t hurt. I won’t be busting down a warehouse any time soon, but I can take a child’s hand in mine and tell him why I think he’s got something special to share with the rest of us. And, on the off-chance I happen to be especially aware, I could even pray for that child, because holding hands and compliments aren’t always enough.
When, in the middle of all that farting and burping and gurgling, my mind wanders and I breathe out a sad sigh, Belén takes her hand out of her armpit and asks, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”
I tell them about what I’d read in the morning, leaving out sexual references but leaving in the part about girls getting trapped by chivalrous suitors. Both Stan and I turn grim and remind our daughters they have to be careful about where they meet people and who they can trust.
“Should I meet my boyfriend in a cross-country ski shack?” Susanna asks seriously.
“Excellent idea,” adds Stan.
Isn’t life terrible–in the broadest sense, including formidable greatness and extreme terror? How it can be so sad and poignant and ordinary and heartbreaking and average and lovely all at the same time? Like how baking raspberry pies and playing with dollies and DIY haircuts fall under DAILY LIFE, when that same category also includes women in chains with ice packs between their legs?
Live the poems when you can,
*Read another interview with Chong Kim here.
PS. Thanks, Abra, for the link.