03 May 2007

We have overlaps and sutures and it all blends together.

What did Dante write? Something about halfway along the journey on the road of life or something like that. Perhaps the Divine Comedy was an outburst of well-directed mid-life crisis. Where is our mid-life anyway? I suppose you could take average life span, but other than that, we aren't really too sure of the hour of our deaths, and therefore none too sure of the midpoints of our lives.

I'd like to think I haven't reached the midpoint yet, and to tell you the truth I'm not so sure the midpoint of one's journey is terribly meaningful, because we've had so many lives, first as children, then as adults, then as parents, perhaps one day as grandparents. The strands interweave to form continuities that existed before you were born and will continue to exist once you are dead, and not just as wikipedia entries or dormant myspace accounts. Sometimes these continuities crystalize and ossify into dogma, like nationalism or "tradition," and we forget the living changes to glorify a stagnant never-was.

Maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm re-reading Sharon Olds' The Wellspring, a tremendous book of poems that hit me much harder in 2000 after our son was born than it did in 1996 when I bought it.

"Bathing the Newborn"
by Sharon Olds

I love with an almost fearful love
to remember the first baths I gave him–
our second child, our first son–
I laid the little torso along
my left forearm, nape of the neck
in the crook of my elbow, hips nearly as
small as a least tern’s hips
against my wrist, thigh held loosely
in the loop of thumb and forefinger,
the sign that means exactly right. I’d soap him,
the long, violet, cold feet,
the scrotum wrinkled as a waved whelk shell
so new it was flexible yet, the chest,
the hands, the clavicles, the throat, the gummy
furze of the scalp. When I got him too soapy he’d
slide in my grip like an armful of buttered
noodles, but I’d hold him not too tight,
I felt that I was good for him,
I’d tell him about his wonderful body
and the wonderful soap, and he’d look up at me,
one week old, his eyes still wide
and apprehensive. I love that time
when you croon and croon to them, you can see
the calm slowly entering them, you can
sense it in your clasping hand,
the little spine relaxing against
the muscle of your forearm, you feel the fear
leaving their bodies, he lay in the blue
oval plastic baby tub and
looked at me in wonder and began to
move his silky limbs at will in the water.


Reya Mellicker said...

Wow what a poem! I'm ordering the book asap.

Thanks for reminding me that life is not as linear and incremental as it sometimes seems - more like a spiral or probably it's like a molecule of DNA with bridges connecting this piece of life experience to that.

Supposedly I'm middle aged (54) but I doubt seriously I'll live to 108 - actually I hope not! Interesting thoughts. Thank you.

mysterygirl! said...

I like Sharon Olds. Thanks for sharing.