what kind of woman does such things

illustration of lilacs, an albatross with spoons inside, crickets, in black, green and purple hues, with a slender moon on top
Art by Kristina Closs

Some Nights

by Kate Baer

Some nights she walks out to the
driveway where the lilacs blooms and
lies down on the warm pavement even
though the neighbors will see and wonder
what kind of woman does such things.

There she stares up at the slender moon
and thinks about the baby albatross filled
with discarded spoons or the time a friend
asked what she was working on these days
and she answered, “Who has the time?”
even though she meant something else
entirely.

Across the lawn the crickets sing while the
earth lets out its tired breath and wanders
through the trees to greet her.

from What Kind of Woman

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and memory itself has become an emigrant

I spent yesterday in a surreal fog as I worked on the Stanford obituary for the poet Eavan Boland, who was a touchstone for me and countless others. All the words I have for today are poured into that piece, so I will leave you with that remembrance and this brilliant poem, which encapsulates many of the themes Eavan wrote about with such precision, compassion, and depth.

Toby and Eavan.jpg
Eavan Boland and Tobias Wolff enjoying a moment of mirth at a creative writing dinner, 2015. Photo by me. 

“The Lost Land”

I have two daughters.

They are all I ever wanted from the earth.

Or almost all.

I also wanted one piece of ground:

One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.

So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.

Now they are grown up and far away

and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:

Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:

At night,
on the edge of sleep,

I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.

Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,

shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then

I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.

I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:

Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

from The Lost Land

Mama is a time-traveling word

Today’s selection is dedicated to my mother. I was once the five-year-old in this poem from Lhena Khalaf Tuffaha, an American poet of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage. I, too, wondered why my mom kept calling me “mom,” and felt mystified by language and everything encompassed in that magical word.

lena-2014

“Translation”

She asks: why do you say Mama
when you
call me?

Six o’clock and I am tired.
And making dinner right now.
An Arab with a five-year-old demanding
neat-and-tidy American answers.
I phone it in:
That’s just how Arabic works.

Translation is a complicated dance.
Mama is the word
that holds you in
even when you are walking around in the world
with your own name,
so that calling you to me
I discard the self and
respond to the name you gave me,
becoming the person you made me.

Mama is a time-traveling word,
a song to you and to my own mother,
so that whenever I reach out to you
she is there too.
And calling you I am once again
the daughter, tethered to her
just as I am
locked in this lifelong embrace
with you.

I call myself and my own mother and you
all three of us, in one breath.

from Water & Salt