The Open Window

Poet Deborah Keenan‘s writing came to me like an open window that I had to jump through while I was in my early twenties. I had just finished college, and I had heard of her because she went to my college (Macalester) years before me and she had supposedly married an English professor from the college (who no longer taught at Mac).

I have no idea if this was true, and I keep deleting this line and then pasting it back in. But I want to keep it here, paying homage to the real curiosity I had back then about the choices people made in their lives once their lives were totally theirs to live. What life would I choose?

Beyond that rumor, before I ever took her class at The Loft in Minneapolis, I wanted to bike to her house and offer to help her with her garden. I wanted to ask her what it took to be a poet in the real world. Back then, I read her poems about motherhood and now I can’t tell you what I thought of them. But now, now I read them and nod in agreement.

As an aside, taking her poetry writing class was lovely; she was a lovely teacher. I still read the poem I wrote about taking the bus home after class, the beacon of light around the street lamps, and the person I wanted waiting for me who only rarely waited for me. And now, now I know what it takes to be a poet out in the real world: a gigantic NEED to write poetry within a spare window of time.

I chose this poem because I still hear lines from it in my head. This poem informs the first scene in my memoir (which I have been writing for 5 years and hope to keep writing until it’s ready to be done). Some might say the poem is not about parenting, but I’m including it anyway. To me, it is about that feeling in childhood that we carry into adulthood, how we all want to be like children and scream like the world is ending when what we want won’t stay. And the epigraph, well, Edward Hopper houses, they speak to me.

Someone who is about to be left alone again,
And can no longer stand it.
Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad/1925, Edward Hirsch
This will have to stand for grief,
this arrangement
outside my window, children playing that old statue game,
and the girl who’s just no good at it.
When the leader yells, “Freeze!” she’s too liquid,
can’t claim whatever shape she’d hovering near.
I want to be that girl on the dark green lawn
who cannot hold her position. When you leave me
again my mouth will be open, screaming, my legs
running in your direction. And I don’t even want
to stop you, only desire my composure shattered,
my body not held in check, I want to be calling
you back with all the codes broken, so you will
know the grief is alive and not considered.

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