A drainless shower
Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.
-John Keats, “Of Sleep and Poetry”
“Get up, Mommy. Get up!”
I roll over and click on my phone to check the time. Four months in this place and I still haven’t bought an alarm clock. He climbs up on the bed and squooshes in next to me.
“Come on. It’s time to get up!”
“Okay, okay.” I slump back over and giving him a cuddle he endures for all of 3/10ths of a second. Then I click open the link from The Academy of American Poets. Every morning, verse lands like a charm of goldfinches on the windshield of my new day. If there’s time to idle on the shoulder for a minute, I can watch them flit and preen there, flaring necks and inflating the frills of their wings. Most days, I am in 5th gear before even one has a chance to alight. My gaze glances off the buttery blur as I brace myself for oncoming traffic.
My thumb moves to delete this one but I stop it short. “You’re not going to believe this.” I scootch in under the covers and show Bug the phone. “Do you see that title? This poem is called ‘Get Up, Please.’”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. Let me read it.”
The problem with opening the Poem-A-Day on my ancient Blackberry, especially when it’s 7:20am and we were supposed to be walking out the door five minutes ago, is that I never know what I’m getting into. Will it be a 3-line haiku or the whole of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? Do I dare dive in without the weight of ink to gauge my descent? This one begins, “The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad.” Bug listens. The lines have no shape on the matchbook-sized screen. Where one breaks and another begins is anyone’s guess. I read it as I hear it while Bug, in a rare moment of stillness, listens to me render Kirby’s story in verse.
The poem tumbles from the music to the makers then out past them all, from a santoor which looks like the love child of a typewriter and a hammered dulcimer (only with a lot of extra wires) to an Econolodge in Tifton, Georgia where Mrs. Patel explains the reason her children bend to kiss her feet before leaving for school. When the narrator bursts into tears, I come close. Bug looks up into my pause. “What, Mommy?”
I gather myself and go on.
On to the bus carrying the fourth grader to long division, on to the parents whom we never honor enough and then we are ready and then they are gone. On to Keats who claims finally to understand how martyrs could die for their religion because love is his, and he would die for it, for his You. Then comes the end (and I know it is coming because the ground is rising up under this poem, fast and nothing like soft) when squandered time meets surrender – too late for sure, but what choice do we have? – and we finally inhabit the shape of what we’ve always loved, even when we didn’t dare, even when it wasn’t enough. Even when it still isn’t.
In a final act of mercy, Kirby lets his poem “brush across the feet of anyone who reads it,” and this time, I really do cry.
I turn from Bug for a breath, unable to make my mouth shape the final line. Then I can and so I do, poorly but it will have to suffice. Bug is watching me closely now, taking the measure of this surge. His fiery mama. His sometimes far away mama.
I say, “Wow, what do you think of that?” Coming back to him, smiling as best I can.
“I don’t know what any of that means,” he tells me. Now it’s his turn to look away.
“Yeah, it’s pretty long. Also, poems sometimes loop all around to get at what they’re trying to say. Do you want to know what I think it means?”
He surprises me with his nod.
Even though it’s a school day and the sun is already up, even though we will surely be late, I put my phone down and begin. I try to make my own words do justice to what I heard. Music, gesture, the mighty dead. Mrs. Patel and Fanny Brawne, the kiss. The bow. In each of us, the god. I tell him what I believe to be true (at least this morning. Another morning is anyone’s guess) that it’s hard to decide what’s important enough to die for. That it can be even harder to decide what to live for.
Then I say, “Those kids bow to the light within their mama. Would you do that to me?”
“No,” Bug says.
“Oh, come on. Let’s start our day like that every morning. Let’s start right now.” I sit up in the bed and spread my arms over my son. “I bow to the light within you.”
“No!” I dip down and nuzzle his belly. He squirms away. “Your turn,” I tell him. “Bow to the light! Bow to me! Respect the distance I’ve traveled!”
“Stop, Mom!” He cries. Giggling, he twists off the bed. “Get up!”
“Please,” I say.
“Get up please,” he says.
“Okay. “ I pull back the covers. “Since you asked so nicely.”
Visit the Academy of American Poets site, Poets.org, to see the full text of David Kirby’s “Get Up Please” and to register for Poem-a-Day.