Compared to a handful of brilliant students and colleagues, I write poetry with neither frequency nor remarkable talent. Still, sometimes, every other year or so, it happens. Because sometimes prose would take too long, and there are moments that require only a few words, written over and over again. This week has elicited many moments like that, but I’ve chosen to write only about this one.
Standing by the windowsill you wave your arms,
your strong voice shrill.
And “Up!” you cry and turn around,
your small feet anchored to the ground.
And you learn day by day that you’re not so tall,
like the rest of us,
though you’re by far the best of us,
you see less than us
because you’re only what? Two feet?
Maybe three, but no more. So you’re little, my dear,
and you can’t see so far.
You can’t see it all, and it frustrates you,
the all of it, the too small of it,
not tall enough to see what you want,
what you don’t even know you’re missing,
just that something’s missing
and you’re wishing that somehow, anyhow,
you were able to fit in, to see out,
to peek over the walls of your too-small world.
You always wanted to be bigger,
before you could sit up you’d figure
out how to roll side to side,
craning your neck to catch wide-angle view of the floor,
trying to score an extra few centimeters of sight.
Back then the flat of your head met the floor,
perfect fit, but you weren’t having it.
You wanted a round head and a round world
to explore on two feet. Now you’re two feet tall,
but still too small to see all you want,
because windowsills are still too high
and since walking wasn’t hard once you tried,
you wonder if you’ll learn to fly someday.
So you stomp your feet, toddler tantrum style,
the dance of mile after mile of tiny pants and open hands waving,
paving the way for your exploration.
You’re mad because you can’t see,
can’t be all you want to be, so you pout,
“Up!” you shout. I want to look out.
It’s not new, little seer,
feeling freer by the minute
as you look into the future
and out of the window.
Your tantrum is not one of a kind,
it comes from a mind that knows you well,
a mind that can tell of when I was younger,
biting my lips in anger,
laughing off danger and wanting whatever I wanted,
no matter how forbidden, no forest too haunted
for me to explore it. And the anger is quieter now,
as I bide my time and keep my own mind,
but it’s there all the same,
a layer of pain, a curtain of rage that’s softened with age,
into quiet breaking and a heart cracked and aching
for a glimpse of a world I’m still too small to see,
a place still beyond this world of you and me.
I still wave and cry “Up!” for a place to stand a see,
a windowsill to show what it means to be free,
to see orphans beloved, and refugees home,
to see wars all resolved and forests full-grown.
I stoop to lift you up to look,
your sticky hands splayed on the pane,
your nose pressed flat as I explain
the winter sunset and the snow,
the pastel pink and white below, our home.
I pick you up to see this place,
to let the sunset stain your face a shade of gold,
so we can hold this minute together,
the windowsill, the village cold and dim and still.
And I’m taller than you, but still small enough
that I wish for height, a wider view, a clearer sight
of beauty just above, beyond,
the hard hearts and closed eyes,
past shattered homes and quick goodbyes.
Not tall enough to mend or free,
there’s still a glimpse of good for me,
in a sunsets and a sippy cup, a curious toddler, crying “Up!”
For here you are, my windowsill,
my wider view,
my little girl.