The Art of Putting Things Together

Last night, my two-year-old spent the evening dropping fistfuls of fried rice from her high seat while singing Humpty Dumpty had a great faaaaall!


I probably should have intervened – taken her bowl away or redirected her. At the very least I should have stopped making sound effects every time the rice hit the carpet.


But as a poet, I’ve developed the ability to detach myself from my parental responsibilities and view my kids, instead, as adorable little metaphors.


And there was something about the way she took all those grains of rice and squares of tofu, slivers of scallions and crowns of broccoli and transformed them into tiny cannonballs that made think about the process of metaphor-making, itself, and the art of putting disparate things together.


But as I watched my daughter launch conceit after conceit into the air, I realized that it’s one thing to put ideas together, another to make them stick.


The carpet was beginning to look like a Jackson Pollock painting, splattered with rice and shriveled-up pieces of egg.


And as I looked around the house – at all the scattered toys and dirty dishes – I started to wonder if Humpty Dumpty was actually an allegory, Mother Goose’s commentary on motherhood, and what it means to be immersed in the never-ending struggle of putting things back together again.


Papa, my two-year-old said suddenly. I got doggies.


Doggies? I said.


She took my thumb and rubbed it against her nose until something green and slimy stuck to it.


Doggies, she said.


And that’s when I remembered this exchange from Alice in Wonderland:


'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'


'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'


'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'


And I started thinking about poetry and two-year-olds and all the delight and confusion that stems from the relationship between language and meaning.


It reminded me of when my older daughter was two and spent all spring talking about wanting to swim in the kiddie pool.


And when summer finally came and we put on our suits and drove down to her dream destination, she just stared at all the other toddlers with their swimmy diapers and yellow duckies then looked up at me with such disappointment and asked: but where are all the kitties?


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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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