Saturday, January 16, 2016

Little lyric machines

Last night I walked in the door of my house. It was late, and I froze like a treed raccoon when my young son shined his flashlight in my face. He then pointed the beam at the floor.

“Moon … fall down,” he said, looking sadly at the white circle on the floor.

For those childfree-and-loving-it types who wonder why some of us breed, well, that’s pretty much the reason: spontaneous poetry. Oh, and additionally kids can be trained to fetch stuff, e.g., “Shilokotah, go get Mommy her special giant juice box.” This trick actually works about half the time.

But I’m thinking about the poetry at the moment, because some days kids speak only in first lines of shit we desperately need to write.

Once when my son was five, we laid ourselves down in the grass in a hidden and little-known field of a park we frequented. We visited this field often, but we never encountered another person there, despite the fact that it was a busy place, with a constant stream of voices on the trail just past the treeline. On this particular day, my son turned his head to where I was lying beside him in the sun, and he threw his arms wide and pronounced, “I declare this the Place of Fresh Butterfly Milk.”

I swear it’s true—children, all children, are little lyric machines. It’s tempting to wake them in the middle of the night or to stuff them with ice cream, just to hear their addled or logy pronouncements. But it actually works best to catch them at their happiest and most wholesome to get the real goods, I’ve found. Those moments are impossible to predict with any accuracy, so I recommend carrying a pocket notebook at all times, just in case.

Kids are a lot of work, and they noisily and shamelessly slurp up time like the last quarter-inch of a milkshake, leaving behind not even a taste. They are black holes. But they are also utterly inspiring. Some days everything they say makes you certain they’re divine messengers sent to save you. And then in the very next sentence they’re replacing every other word with a literal fart.

I’m not entirely sure of the math where poetry is concerned, and whether kids give more than they take. I suppose there are days when either argument is true. I do know that poetry happens to us, regardless of whether we can grab it like a lightning bug and throw it in a jar.

At any rate, fireflies don’t exist so that they can wear out their light in a jar. They’re here to astonish us with a beauty that is gone almost before it can register.

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