When Emily Bright decided to get her Masters of Fine Arts degree in poetry, she expected that it would prepare her for a career of teaching and writing. What she didn’t expect was that being a poet would teach her how to be a good parent. Today in the first of our series “Poets on Poetry,” Bright tells us the story.
When my daughter learned to pull herself up to standing at about 10 months, that was all she wanted to do, and who could blame her? That white wall in the bathroom turned out to be the edge of the bathtub. The living room table was stacked with wonders when she could see the top of it: pens and magazines and other good things to put in her mouth.
The poet in me understood precisely what was going on. She was discovering a new plane of existence.
What I love about poetry is that it invites readers to look at the world in a new way. Being a poet requires you to look for wonder daily. When I became a mother, suddenly I had this tiny human for whom everything was new, and I realized that being a poet had prepared me to be a parent.
With a small child, there is so much to look at! We watch leaves twist and flutter in the wind, shifting the patches of light at our feet. At the grocery store, the cans and boxes become vehicles for pattern and color.
There is so much to touch. The laundry pile is a chorus of textures, of cotton and corduroy and the nubbly insides of socks. There’s snow and pine cones and Daddy’s prickly whiskers. And the scrunch of balloons against your teeth.
And taste—there is taste—can you imagine the pleasure of trying each food for the first time? When my daughter tried her first banana, in slipped around her mouth and splurted down onto the tray. She made the yucky face. I wonder if the drive most foodies have is the simple desire to experience new flavors and textures, to roll food around in your mouth without knowing whether you’ll like it or not.
And smell—think of going through your spice cabinet one by one. Twist off the caps, close your eyes…
And then, there is language, which is a form of music. We shout through toilet paper tubes and run through the house, sounding our voices. We waltz to Sleeping Beauty, and—at two—my daughter echoes it back:
“I know you…the gleam in your eyes is so ameliar to me. I know you…” she sings.
Before things get too rosy, I should say: I don’t have much time to write anymore. When my daughter wakes up from her nap, I’m always mid-sentence. I think, “no! go back to sleep!” I learn to compose verses—and much of this essay—while soothing her to sleep. Then I stumble, blinking, out into the living room, and scrabble to write it down.
If being a poet has equipped me as a better parent, I can only hope that the reverse is true—that the experience of motherhood has made me a better poet. Parenting is such an omnipresent task, I often wonder if anyone else could possibly be interested. Then I see other moms and dads making the same goofy faces at their newborns, and I think, Maybe I can capture this season of life for someone else. Maybe I can trigger a memory.
And so, in honor of National Poetry Month, here is a poem about the tender and frustrating task of getting an infant to go to bed. It’s entitled “Rocking my Baby to Sleep.”
Rocking My Baby to Sleep
by Emily K. Bright
After she has finally stopped squirming, launching out against my ribs in total confidence
that I will always hold her up,
After she has laid her head upon my shoulder, then looked up like a prairie dog to see
what she might miss (my dinner getting cold, my husband ready with our movie)
After she has planted her thumb securely in her mouth and spread the other soft warm hand
against the pulse of my neck,
After I’ve run out of songs and stand just rocking quietly, watching her eyelids
in their slow blink toward sleep,
After all this, and before I lay her down, I remember, finally, to let my body rest.
I release my arms, my neck. Let her body lower against my body.
She stirs and I breathe, recalling what I wish to be pressing into her. Not my worry
nor my rush, but something deep and simpler:
A full, sweet sleep; a happy waking. In the night-lit dim I hold her.
Let these hands be hands of blessing.