A word after a word is power

Grace wants to be a writer when she grows up.  Well, that and a vet and an Olympic athlete, too.  And a mummy.  All of it.  And I don’t have the words to express how grateful, and proud, and overwhelmed I feel by those ambitions, dreams, hopes.  So I revisit, as is my habit, the words of others who can convey that inchoate swirl of emotion right under my breastbone in a way that I can’t.

Just recently, Grace swapped out the pink duvet cover that’s been on her bed since she first slept in it for one covered in peace signs.  Obsessed with peace signs, she is.  As part of her “redecorate my room” campaign, she asked me to take down a framed poster that had hung on her wall for years.  And, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I did.  The poster had a picture of her at the age of 4 writing her name, and a copy of Margaret Atwood’s poem Spelling.

This is a poem I have loved for a long time.  It was the epigraph to my college thesis.  I thought of my choice, 16 years ago, to include this poem (with a photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s naked breasts and hand) in my thesis, which was about the mother-daughter relationship.  I thought of the ways in which I was then anticipating now, this very girl who grows in front of my eyes, this moment when I was the mother, and I had that dizzying experience where time collapses on itself.

Before I took it off the wall, I read the poem to Grace one last time.  And more than once, I had to pause to regain my composure and to swallow back the tears. Reading this poem to my eager daughter while looking at pictures of her writing her very first word. Pictures of her first word, her name. Grace. grace. Dear, dear universe. Thank you. Words, poetry, pen on paper, names, spelling, grace.

Gracie, my grace.

Spelling (Margaret Atwood)

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
read, blue, & hard yellow.
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.


and I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.


A child is not a poem,
A poem is not a child.
There is no either/or.


I return to the story
of a woman caught in the war
& in labor, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.
Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.
A word after a word
after a word is power.


At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.


How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky, & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.


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  1. Posted April 24, 2012 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    And now, she names herself again, as she will do over and over and over again throughout her days, and always – in invisible but indelible ink – will be “Grace.”

  2. Hilary Levey Friedman
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Wow. I have never read that poem before. Sets a new tone for my day today. Powerful (words, you, myself). Thank you.

  3. Posted April 24, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Oh, Lindsey. This is beautiful and heartbreaking all at one. I love that poem. And I love it that when I ask Big Girl what she wants to be, she says what I said at that age when I was asked that question: an artist.

  4. Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The poem gave me chills. So powerful. So perfect.

    I have a feeling Grace will go back to this someday, and find a way to make it a part of her life again. Maybe not on the wall, but someplace better. Her heart.

  5. Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I think that poem eloquently captures the exquisite challenge a woman faces today: does she pursue her dreams or pursue motherhood? Something I am still figuring out myself.

  6. Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Or how to do both, and do them both well? That’s the million dollar question for me. Lindsay, my “non-blog” writing at the moment is about mothers and daughters at around the age of your daughter. So this post was like a little gem for me!

  7. Posted April 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I was over at Naptime Writing’s blog and her word post asked about favorite and not-so-favorite words. I think Grace is one of my favorite words and your post just reminded me of this. I see this as so fitting for you to have a daughter named Grace. I don’t know why but it seems to emulate you and your writing.

  8. Posted April 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    You know I love the word, the name Grace. Having a daughter changes everything, deepens words, fills out the meaning. It is a gift and a challenge for which I cannot find words.

  9. Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    As much as I love Margaret Atwood’s books, I’d never read this poem. Thank you for sharing it, it so powerful to read.

  10. Posted April 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, first for introducing me to that poem. And second, for sharing this moment I can imagine swelling with emotions as this little girl grows up a little more. Beautiful.

  11. Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I love how the words fall away from the hot bone–such a metaphor from my daily life, that crock pot cookery of phrases we’re all looking for.
    I ached a bit with your post–my kids are so young, but soon they will be making their own choices about what they will ahve on walls. A tender, lovely thing, but also a goodbye to a more dependent time.

  12. Posted April 27, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    These girls are amazing, growing up in a world already so different from ours, and SO SO different from their grandmothers’. My oldest daughter wants to be a knitter, a potter, a nurse and a ballerina. And here’s the thing: That’s completely possible. I love that. 🙂