Friday, August 21, 2009

"This Is Your Hand"

I found this poem last night and felt it captures perfectly the tenuous balance I try to strike with the kids: teaching them about the world, little by little, knowing with every explanation or definition, there is a universe of thought and meaning that cannot yet be spoken. But it will be someday.

I found this poem as I was searching for poems that could be read at a funeral. Big Abby's mommy passed away Monday. "Big Abby" is our babysitter, and Ben coined that title to distinguish her from our own little Abby. I met her in my life before children when I taught English at a local high school. She was in one of my freshman classes, and I grew to know her more through her involvement with student Senate and through her roles in the theater department. Last year, I wrote her a letter of recommendation for the well-respected theater program at her university, and she is to begin this new endeavor next week. She called me yesterday to ask if I had any recommendations of poems she could read at the funeral. "How do you find a poem for a funeral?" she asked. "Google funeral poems? That seems morbid." So I spent the evening looking for poems in my anthologies from college.

Her mother had fought cancer for 15 years, but her death was unexpected, related to a fall she took on their family vacation a few weeks ago (which I'm sure was related to the cancer). I imagine there must be some confusion to lose someone who seemed always on the brink of leaving to something other than the constant, epic battle. Whatever the case, this beautiful, 19 year old girl will now walk out into the world without a mother to bring her flowers on opening night, to meet the man who will be her husband, to hold her children as they grow. My sadness for the totality of her loss is indescribable.

I see little Abby's hand in the picture--so concrete, so sure, learning the world through all that is tangible and literal. Now, she sees a yellow flower, feels its soft, delicate existence, hears the bumblebees flitting nearby. Someday, she will see more: beauty? hope? the love of her mother who captured the moment? It is a strangely, beautifully, tragically complicated life we live.

You Begin
by Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

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