BootsnAll Travel Network

Daughter poem

Alicia just returned from her daughter’s commencement ceremonies at NYU this past weekend. Alicia said she didn’t expect the waves of emotion that overpowered her as they made this passage together, she and her daughter. Alicia brought to the poetry group this heart-stopping poem by Philip Booth, from his book, Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. It says exactly what Alicia and I both hope will be true for our daughters:

First Lesson

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

I wish I completely believed that. I don’t: not for myself, and not for my daughter. Not as metaphor, and not as literal fact. I can’t float worth a damn. I always sink. I’ve had many people try to help me float. Some say I need to breathe more deeply, tip my head back further. But even with my head so far back that my nostrils fill with water, still my feet sink to the bottom as if they’re tied to cement blocks. Some say it’s a bone density vs. fat problem, that I have no buoyancy. I wonder if it’s only that fear cramps my heart. My daughter’s a terrific swimmer. I hold onto that and blow on it as if it were a damp piece of kindling I hope will start a fire.

Reb Anderson says we need to be patient with our fears, with our anxieties; that we need to hold them gently in our hands and be very, very patient with them; that this patience builds necessary bridges between us and all other people who fear. I have strong bridges.

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2 responses to “Daughter poem”

  1. stephenbrody says:

    the sea will hold anyone up for a while if you don’t lose your nerve – it may of course not always take you where you want to go

  2. admin says:

    Genius, Stephen. The sea seldom does take us where we want to go. The trick is learning to love where it takes us. You have mastered that; and then, your sea took you to a place that’s easy to love. Perhaps you paddled a bit to cooperate and direct the flow? How wise you were. And are.

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