Experiment in the Mini-Essay #16- Infant Poetry has God on the Line
I read aloud to Ronen while we nurse. Gulping is his foreground music; words are his background music. Not Hungry Caterpillar, Not Goodnight Moon– he’ll be well-fed on those classics everyone includes in an early literary diet. Instead, I’m moving through the anthology that Rick, our beloved officiant, left here for our wedding preparation: the “Winged Energy of Delight.” That’s what I want my son to know. Vallejo, Dickson, Machado, Issa, Kabir– the poet’s ardor and specificity. It ain’t Mother Goose’s regular posse.
This morning I read the verses of poet Caesar Vallejo, not so kid-tastic; his existential dreariness is leavened by the abstract, bizarre, and surreal. He’s in depressing Paris, trying to be an artist, being an artist, dying there an artist. Couldn’t be farther from my infant’s reality, but the fuzzy borders between self and world that poet and infant must traverse and explore, and sometimes be confounded by, are similar. The regular old world still reads to them both as nonsense. Vallejo’s lines also have currents of odd joy that would not be everyone’s joy, manifesting in pulses throughout his poems the way Milk lets down in pulses.
My small boy, suckling intensely, is anchored to my body while I read. Nothing could be less abstract than breast-feeding. As counterpoint to that, Vallejo writes: “I feel that God is traveling/so much in me,/ with the dusk and the sea….He is kind and sad, like those who care for the sick;…I consecrate you, God, because you love so much;/because you never smile; because your heart/ must all the time give you great pain.” Just as I read these lines to Ronen, who smacks my breast by reflex in aim-iess rhythm, my dear friend texts me a snippet from her first day in her program for a Masters in Children’s Literature and Research: “Poetry eases an infant’s transition learning division of self and world”(From her teacher Karen Coats). Yes, ease— what I want for my boy, ease.
And yet I read to him about what we all long to keep from our children, from anyone we love, or, if we have the Big View, from anyone at all– pain that cannot be mitigated. Pain that is as elementary and constitutional as blood and lymph. Motherhood brings on a special ache over this pain– when Ronen flinches and whimpers from any discomfort whose source I cannot know, as private and inaccessible as his moment of embryonic implantation, I flinch, I hurt with reciprocal depth, I grimace, I flail. I am on my knees even while standing up, on his behalf, I pray despite myself.
I feel that god is traveling so much in me, Vallejo explains. Pregnant with my boy, not knowing then he was a boy, I too felt god traveling in my body– really! Coursing through the blood, using hormones as floatation devices. Not to say that it was a comfy situation, not at all. How could it be when the infinite moves through the finite? But it was supersonic fullness, continual transit across placental hallways, mood spikes, a tsunami of creative energy working itself into compressed cellular organelles and organs and an eventual organism. Mother Mary, turns out, as special as she was, was nobody special. She was us, you and me, holding the urgent and ineffable becoming.
When John and I made love in those 9 months– when I managed to take a break from being irritated at all of humanity for which he was, in my limited, warped, delusional pregnant viewpoint, the unfortunate front-runner in my household– I’d say to our baby-to-be, this is where you come from, you come from love, and you’re coming into love. Simplistic, yes– and, if you pushed me to admit it, the world is not exactly that straightforward. But mothers fib sometimes for the sake of a good story: egg and sperm and cellular replication was involved, and the baby enters into a lot more than love– into bureaucracy (fittingly hard to spell), burrs, bumpers, a mish-mosh of phenomena. The world is inescapably complex, and not reducible to any one element, however glorious. But still, not a bad creation myth to tell your child or yourself. It is a non-sentimental kind of Love that catches the child, more absolute, more daunting.
With my boy in my arms, feeling the increasing loops of love that tether me to his funny particularities, that twine around the arbor of my body, fixed, from which he is the heavy grapes hanging, I feel something like Vallejo’s god again, that sad god who kindly cares for the sick, a person of great pain, the heavy pain that comes with separation. I feel God in the strange lumpy tissue accruing beneath my C-section incision, I feel God in the tingling that signals the milk truck has filled up the ducts, I feel God in the endlessness of diapers that seem to pinwheel off the table into the garbage, off the table into the garbage. I feel God in the way my beautiful husband razzes and strokes the baby, the way my stepsons ask to hold him and cradle his erratic head with confidence. This holiness is like water, taking the shape of its container.
Sara Nolan I am a writer, an educator, and self-employed, except for the paycheck I get from the NYC NFP where I teach 7th graders to write personal essays about the pleasures and pains of incipient adulthood. I “just” had a baby almost 1 year ago; my son (re)teaches me about the delights of noticing and expressing, which is basically what art is. Through my business, Essay Intensive, I coach teens to write strong, honest college essays to reveal the people they are and are becoming. This grew out of my love of being real with teenagers and listening to them. My site: www.essayintensive.com.