Learning to Trust the Contrary

My four-year-old asks me to fill her water bottle with really, really, really cold water. She likes her water on the rocks. Or, perhaps better said, she likes her rocks with a splash of water.


I’m on my ninth ice cube when I notice that she is doing the pee-pee dance – legs crossed, hopping as she shifts her weight from side to side, as though she’s practicing for Riverdance.


Go to the potty, I tell her.


I’m not going, she says.


Go to the potty, I repeat.


Bottle first, she says.


So I add of dash of water and screw on the top. She grabs it from me, races to the bathroom, pulls the stool to the toilet, sits down, tilts her head back, and proceeds to pee and drink at the exact same time.


There is something about the sensation of simultaneously being thirsty and needing to pee that reminds me of poetry.


It is different than the other day when I caught her snacking on pita chips while pooping. That was just gross.


But as I watch my funnel of a daughter, I am reminded of how a poem must swirl with both relief and desire.


When I was younger, I thought that the essence of poetry was in its yearnings. Do not look for water, wrote Rumi. Look for thirst. And my first notebooks were filled with unfulfilled desires. Every question begat more questions.


But you can only long for so long.


At some point, your soul grows tired of the daily interrogations, responds because I said so and then gives you its iPhone to play with so that it can just have a few minutes of peace and quiet.


And yet, there is nothing less satisfying than a satisfied poem – the kind that trusts its own wisdom, that doesn’t recognize the vice of advice.


The challenge, then, is learning to trust the contrary – to trust the tension between and within words.


And when my daughter returns ten minutes later with her legs crossed and cup extended, I am reminded that a poem never really begins until it itches in two places at once, never really ends until it is both thirsting and bursting at the same time.


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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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