Yet Another Reason not to Marry a Poet

My four-year-old and I were recently walking to the playground when she noticed a picture of a young girl, not much older than her, hugging a dog.

 

Aww, she said, what a cute puppy.

 

I didn’t have the heart to explain why a picture like that would be posted to a telephone pole, and so I smiled and continued walking when she started to sound out the letters in bold on top of the poster.

 

And then her face dropped and she asked, what happened to that poor dog?

 

I probably should have offered a quick and hopeful response, but there was something about the dialectics of that moment – her excitement over decoding the words coupled with the awful realization of what those words meant – that turned me inward, got me thinking about poetry and all its strange contradictions and undertows.

 

My daughter was used to picture books where the image of a dog wagging its tail meant a bowlful of puppy chow. And now here was an image betraying its meaning – a picture of a girl with her arms around her pet representing desperation and loss.

 

It reminded me of the way she used to clap her hands with such delight every time she saw the flashing lights of an ambulance, and how my favorite poems tend to offer us a similar yoking – the pain of message, as Donald Hall writes, and pleasure of body.

 

My daughter was still waiting for a response but I was worried now about offering her false assurances. Uncertainty, after all, is a precursor to wonder, and wonder is what returns us to innocence.

 

But when I knelt down and saw the deep concern in my daughter’s eyes it occurred to me that a four-year-old is not exactly in dire need of a return to innocence.

 

And so I suddenly “remembered” that I happened to see that young girl with her dog earlier that morning and that they simply must have forgotten to take down the posters.

 

My daughter looked at me with a mixture of suspicion and relief, and we continued walking towards the playground when a few blocks later we came upon another telephone pole with another poster – of a man standing next to a Jeep that he was trying to sell.

 

Aww, my daughter said. That poor man lost his truck.

 

And again I found myself sinking into a bemused reverie, thinking about imagery and the shifting sands of meaning, as my daughter ran ahead towards the empty playground and the promise of spending the rest of the afternoon swinging carelessly side-by-side.

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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. www.ben-berman.com

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