Inclusion and Exclusion in Our Daily Lives
PART V: FAMILY & HISTORY
by the window on the cedar bench. Its sturdy tongue-in-grove construction, scarcely notices her weight. She breathes in the moist breeze that sifts though the screen door fine as baking flour.
She wonít touch the screen. She remembers the time when with excited expectation, she leaned into the wire mesh and her two small hands pushed through causing it to come free at the edges and welcome in the flies eager for the cool house and the warmth of freshly baked pies. She is careful now.
She sits with her ankles crossed and scuffs the toes of her white patent leather shoes on the warm honey wood of the floor. She twirls a ponytail with one hand, steadies herself with the other and leans in close to eye the underside of a lady bug that crawls up the door so delicately that its weight doesnít bend or buckle the screen. She blows her bubble gum breath onto the ladybug until it lets go and spotted side up, it flies away, leaving her to wait
alone on the bench just inside the door. She hums to herself nothing in particular, just a string of tones and pitches that somehow, make a simple song. She notices how the screen breaks the outside world into tiny squares of light and color. She must remember to tell Daddy when he comes. Soon,
her eyelids are heavy. Her head bobs. Her shoulders slump.
So her mother comes to take her hand. Mama pulls her off the bench in one sure slide of petticoat across hewn wood. Her motherís soap-burned hands tug the smocked dress over the girlís head and then slips a cotton nightdress down over her round, cherubic body.
All the while, they listen to the crickets sing a familiar song: nothing in particular, just a string of tones and pitches that somehow, make a simple song. The girl smiles. She must remember to tell Daddy when he comes.
How does the author draw us into a world of both inclusion and exclusion?
Why do we feel that the waiting child is both vulnerable and resilient?
What protects her?
While growing up in an abusive home, I waited with great expectancy for the fantastical father I expected would come to rescue me. Initially, I set out to write a poem about this experience. I didn't want to write a poem that bordered on sentimentality or didactics. I wanted to write a piece about my disappointment at waiting for an absent father who chose to remain absent. However, as I began writing this piece, I was confronted with the plight of my own three children. They live in a different state than their father. Eventually, each child had to make peace with his absence. Once in conversation, one child remarked wistfully, Daddies don't stay. When I protested, the child sing-songed a list of children we knew that were estranged or distant from their fathers. When I returned to my poem, I no longer saw the little girl in the poem as the child I had once been ashamed of being. I thought of all the children waiting. In orphanages or foster care. I thought of the children waiting for their fathers to return from Iraq or from hospitals. I thought of children like myself whose fathers were the stuff of legend, but not substance. The poem then became less about me. I wondered about the mothers left to comfort, provide and rear these waiting children. For a moment, I felt a twinge of sympathy for own mother. I felt a twinge of sympathy for myself, making enough out of lack. However, what suddenly struck me was the beauty of a child's hope. I remembered my own childhood dreams of a breathlessly valiant father who had searched the world looking for me. How he could scarcely breathe until he had found his precious daughter and baptized her in concern, adoration and cute clothes. Quite unexpectedly, I smiled. It was the waiting with expectation that cushioned reality, healed welts and soothed the sting of my mother's curses. My father was coming and because he was coming, I had only to wait. I was seventeen when I realized my father wasn't coming, but by that time it didn't really matter. I had done my time in my mother's house. So, I left to find my fortune, as they say in the fairy tales. You see, waiting is not passive. Waiting is a decision to dream, believe, plan and love. I learned to be hopeful, but self-sufficient in the meantime. The little girl in my poem will be fine. I don't know if her Daddy comes home to her. I purposely left her to her hopeful dreams.
ANTOINETTE BRIM's poetry has appeared in various journals, magazines and anthologies including The November 3rd Club, the Cave Canem issue of the Drunken Boat and the anthology, Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and a Harvard University W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow (NEH Summer Institute, July 2006). She is also a recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown (July 2007). Antoinette earned an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Antioch University/ Los Angeles and a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Language with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Webster University. She teaches Creative Writing, World Literature, and Composition at Pulaski Technical College. Her book of poetry, Psalm of the Sunflower, is being published by Willow Books in September, 2009.