Playing with Matches

We’re late for school, and my five-year-old is getting undressed.

 We gotta go, I say.

 Sorry, she says. My underwear doesn’t match my sweater.

 Does it really matter? I say.

 She looks up from the hamper, raises her eyebrows, then continues digging through the dirty laundry.

And though I’m tempted to point out that no one will ever know whether or not the trimming of her underwear matches the flowers on her sweater, that chances are she’s going to take off her sweater the second she gets to school, as a poet, I understand the importance of such hidden patterns.

A poem is an instant of lucidity in which the entire organism participates, writes Charles Simic, and there’s something about metaphor in conversation with form, imagery playing off of diction that feels essential to the workings of a poem.

And yet I’m weary of anything that fits too neatly together, that feels too tightly orchestrated.

Earlier this week, my five-year-old pirouetted herself into a wall and, hearing her cry, my two-year-old came running over to the rescue.

Here you go, she said, handing her a box of tampons. Put these on your boo-boo.

There is something about disjunction that is at the heart of both poetry and parenting, speaks to the way that our lives are filled with interruptions and non-sequiturs, how we discuss the stresses of our jobs between bouts of shaking our sillies out.

Last night, as I was putting my daughters to sleep, my five-year-old said, I love you so much it makes my heart burst.

Then my two-year-old announced from the other side of the room: I love you so much and I like to play with toads.

And I was reminded of why I wake up so early every morning to read and write poems, with all their imprecise meanings and tangling of tones.

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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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