When Liz invites me to a poetry reading, I think, I, mother of three, can escape. After all, the last reading I attended must have been ten years ago: Tess Gallagher speaking about her partnership and writing life with Raymond Carver. I wondered what Gallagher meant when she mentioned the obligations of the household (I was teaching a couple classes–using Carver’s Where I’m Calling From–pregnant with my first child, clueless). Gallagher keeps house? Writers keep house? I clung instead to her next image: Tess and Ray sharing their writing (guests gone, dishes done) like a pair of horses, one black, one white, pulling the chariot of poetry.
Everything’s lined up. My husband agrees to watch the kids, Liz will drive. Glitch one: my husband’s cross-country team needs a chaperone at the last minute, he’s out. Liz’s husband steps in: he’ll take on my three children in addition to their one son. Embarrassed but determined, I agree. My two-year-old clambers up beside Liz’s husband, whispers, Go away Mom, bye. Liz and I don our coats and head for the door. Until (glitch two) my five-year-old falls to the ground, wraps his arms around my ankles and cries on my shoelaces.
Sure, bring him, Liz says kindly (she in her lovely black pants suit and silk scarf). I disengage my son from my snot-damp sweats, zip up the old overcoat and take his hand. We’re late; when we walk in a poet’s wrapping up a stanza. We grab seats on the fringe; my son plunks down on the floor. We make it through the next speaker’s opening comments.
My son creeps towards the bookshelves. The weight-loss section keeps him a moment: on one cover, a woman in tight scarlet pants holds a pineapple. Next, he peruses a few headshots of perky brunettes, smiling. My son stealth-crawls, fist over fist, to Relationships: beaming couples that beat the odds and stayed together. I’m wondering where photos of the couples that didn’t make it end up. My friend’s listening, probably actually absorbing the poetry. When my son starts drumming on the shelves, I scoop him up and step outside.
I’m sorry, I say to Liz when we reappear (my son and I having downed ice-cream cones around the corner), But can we go home now? I’m stressed about the two-year-old (who of course informs me indignantly when we walk in that he’d like to have stayed longer). It’s not that I can’t stomach poetry anymore–though, on occasion, I too, dislike it (as Marianne Moore writes in her conscience relieving poem Poetry)— but after eight years of either pregnancy or nursing a baby I’m used to sleeping by nine. I’m grateful we escaped, edging back to the public world of poetry, and for those rare minutes alone with my son over scoops of mint-chip ice-cream.
I’m just a bad date these days, I remark on the way out of Liz’s house. Don’t mention it, she says, and shortly scores us a pair of tickets to hear Mary Oliver, balcony seats, the entire theater–we note with glee–full of people who came out just for the love of poetry.
This post was originally published on Feral Mom, Feral Writer.