I hope you had a happy holiday season, and that your family gathering was greeting card perfect. But perhaps after a few too many baby-induced wake ups and boozy political arguments, you got a little anxious to leave? As Ogden Nash once sagely wrote,
One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one's own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
If you fall into the latter category, consider the following poems your medicine--they capture the (often hidden) beauty of family at this most family oriented time of year. First, here's one of the great poems about fatherhood: "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
Alberto Rios' warm and beautiful poem "Nani" describes his efforts to communicate with his Spanish speaking grandmother. The two struggled to use words, but they connected nonetheless.
Sitting at her table, she serves
the sopa de arroz to me
instinctively, and I watch her,
the absolute mama, and eat words
I might have had to say more
out of embarrassment. To speak,
now-foreign words I used to speak,
too, dribble down her mouth as she serves
me albondigas. No more
than a third are easy to me.
By the stove she does something with words
and looks at me only with her
back. I am full. I tell her
I taste the mint, and watch her speak
smiles at the stove. All my words
make her smile. Nani never serves
herself, she only watches me
with her skin, her hair. I ask for more.
I watch the mama warming more
tortillas for me. I watch her
fingers in the flame for me.
Near her mouth, I see a wrinkle speak
of a man whose body serves
the ants like she serves me, then more words
from more wrinkles about children, words
about this and that, flowing more
easily from these other mouths. Each serves
as a tremendous string around her,
holding her together. They speak
Nani was this and that to me
and I wonder just how much of me
will die with her, what were the words
I could have been, was. Her insides speak
through a hundred wrinkles, now, more
than she can bear, steel around her,
shouting, then, What is this thing she serves?
She asks me if I want more.
I own no words to stop her.
Even before I speak, she serves.
Were your holidays filled with Christmas screams from young ones? Here's the clever "Half a Double Sonnet" by Mary Jo Salter. It captures the world through the eyes of a child suffering (quite delightfully) from double vision.
Their ordeal over, now the only trouble
was conveying somehow to a boy of three
that for a week or two he'd be seeing double.
Surely he wouldn't recall the surgery
years later, but what about the psychic scars?
And so, when the patch came off, they bought the toy
he'd wanted most. He held it high. "Two cars!"
he cried; and drove himself from joy to joy.
Two baby sisters. . . One was enough of Clare,
but who could complain?-considering that another
woman had stepped forward to take care
of the girls, which left him all alone with Mother.
Victory! Even when he went to pee,
he was seconded in his virility.
And finally, here's the deliciously blunt poem "A Little Tooth" by Thomas Lux.
Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all
over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,
your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.
Enjoy the new year. If they're still around, enjoy your family. And I hope at least, you aren't stuck sleeping on the couch.