This morning, my world changed dramatically — my son Tom was born. Thomas Nicholas Mele was born at 8:54 am on Sunday, October 31, 2010, 9 pounds 6 ounces. Morra and Tom are both healthy. Visit http://ThomasMele.com for more…
Archive for the ‘My Son’ Category
You are almost three months old. Ninety days. Twelve weeks. The world already looks like a different place. During your short life a lot has happened: a new president, a terrifying economy, a snowy winter giving way to a wet spring. I still don’t know how to play the piano. I have not written as many poems as I had hoped. Your mother grows more beautiful by the day. I walk the dog every night. The dog continues to carefully observe the squirrels’ routine, preparing. I struggle with my work and my weight. The same books stare at me from the bedside table. I despair at the state of my basement study.
Every night I hold you and I hear another instrument enter the arrangement; your life is full of promise and mystery. I try to imagine your future; I am certain it will be different than mine, but how? You will not grow up with monkeys in the backyard, or large lizards in the driveway. There will be no mongoose creeping around your bedroom window, no ever-present geckos on the walls, clucking you to sleep. “I want to tell what the forests were like / I will have to speak in a forgotten language.” The tropical insects will not sing you to sleep; the monsoon rain will not leave you in a thundering stormy silence.
Or maybe I assume too much. Maybe I will convince your mother to move to the tropics, to live in some fabled rainforest, shrouded in mist, and somehow manage a living. What will you discover in your life? Will you be a scuba diver, reveling in the mysteries of the ocean? Will you walk on another planet, or at least the moon? What will the stars offer you? What beautiful things will you see in math? What animals will you share your life with? What plants will you cultivate and come to love?
The physical world has always called to me, but somehow my modern life, my chosen vocation, takes me far afield from the natural and instead deep into the machine, the mechanical, the virtual, the intangible. Sometimes I feel lost in that library of Borges. That’s why I imagine for you a life rich in the astonishing varieties of nature, full of the earth. I am reminded of a Charlie Smith poem called “Modern Art” but suddenly I cannot remember any of the words.
A life of art; A life of science; A life of discovery; A life of love. These are the things I desire for you, the prayer I say each night for my little boy. Tonight the moon is one phase shy of full, but it fills the night sky despite the clouds:
Clouds curdle round it, crack open, let it through.
Radiance shaded by cloudshapes; fat fruit
of incandescence; sphere of peeled silver. I wonder
what living by such light would be: soft
collusion of moonshine with grey gables; walls
in a whitewashed trance; argentine grass; twigs
limned in pewter. Ambition and rage all faded
from the air, the air subdued to a new sense
of self, something intimate and sure about the way
it whispers subtle truths neighbor to neighbor–
or how its ashen luminescence slides inside things
so they shed the cinder skin of what goes on
day by day in daylight, and start breathing.
By Eamon Grennan
This morning, at 7:05 am in Boston, my beautiful wife completed the feat of her life: she gave birth naturally to a boy, Asa Archibald Mele. Both Morra and Asa are happy and healthy. AsaMele.com is up and running. And I took a poem I loved and re-wrote it for the occasion:
Prayer for Asa
Dear Lord, fire-eating custodian of my soul,
creator of the volcanoes and finches’ wings,
guardian of lost dogs and wayward alley cats,
please protect this wet-cheeked baby from disabling griefs.
Grant him curiosity as broad as the expanse of the oceans
and ambition in his chosen ventures like the Ancient Romans.
Let him be inspired by the stark beauty of the Grand Canyon
and piqued by the mystery of the Northern Lights.
Allow him personal courage in his every action,
whether it be telling a friend hard truths or slaying
threatening beasts. Give him a constancy in tribulation
and sound nerves for every crisis, from the missing sock
to the world’s bigger disasters. Provide him a world of
delight and imagination, from the beetles of the jungle
and giraffes of the savannah to the astonishment
of molten sand becoming blown glass. Send him the world over,
discovering a discerning palate from kimchi to nasi lemak.
Give him his mother’s erudite vocabulary,
and her intense athletic poise.
Bless him with musical gifts unknown to his parents;
help him sense when to grin and when to roar.
May exuberance be his inheritance.
“Bravely, he has ventured among us, disguised
as a new comer, shedding remarkably few tears.”
by Nicco Mele
(based on Amy Gerstler’s poem “Prayer for Jackson“)
Time for a nap. We’ve been up for more than two days; Morra went into labor the morning of New Year’s Day.
Waiting for Asa, I have been thinking about the conditions of my own birth. They could not, in some ways, be more different than Asa’s experience. I was born in 1977 in Kumasi, Ghana, in west Africa at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Hospital. The internet has failed me; I can’t find out the weather forecast for the week I was born in Kumasi. I think, though, that is safe to assume it was pretty warm. There was certainly no snow on the ground. Maybe latent African memories explain my obsessive listening to Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim)’s “Barefoot Boy from Queens Town to Mongezi” from the album Duet.
I have also been thinking about the naming of our child. Where did the name Asa come from? I am reminded of a poem I read years ago in the Harvard Review that I tore out and kept:
It was snowing, as it had all night,
And from the look of the drifts he waded,
He was the first one out on 24th Street.
In the faint light, dragging the sack
Of newspapers that erased his footprints,
He became aware of a sound barely louder
Than the hiss of canvas. A flock of birds
He’d never seen before, not sparrows –
Smaller, more colorful – swayed chirping
In the single maple along his route.
Day by day, he’d watched the tree turn
Scarlet, then fade to a glow the shade
Of overripe pears. Leaves still clinging,
Ladened with snow, were inscribed
With the hieroglyphics of bird tracks.
Suddenly, the flock gusted into the twirling
White, emitting as they disappeared
A shrill syllable left hanging – vowelless,
Unpronounceable in any language, its meaning
Foreign to words, secret, so that even then,
If he could, he wouldn’t have revealed it –
A cry farewell, perhaps, but he remembers it
As hearing – so many years before
He heard its gasp from his own mouth –
The first wild utterance of her name.
By Stuart Dybek
The first wild utterance of his name – where did I hear it?
I love reading poetry – it is my preferred leisure activity – poetry and dog-walking. But in the pace of my daily life my poetry bandwidth is constricted, and so it’s now, when things slow down and get quiet, that I can really dive in. Last night I read a wide variety of poetry – from my old favorites to some new titles I have recently acquired. And I found myself returning inexplicably this morning to some lines from Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes.
I was working downtown, at the corner of Fulton and Williams, on September 11, 2001. I was there and I know the entire terrifying madness first hand. I have written about it here before. The harrowing experience of that day continues to haunt me when I least expect it, and the only thing that has helped has been poetry. There are, in particular, four poems that have stayed with me as my salve: Try To Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski, Fragment by CK Williams (you can hear him read this poem on Slate, which I highly recommend), I, May I Rest in Peace by Yehuda Amichai, and a few lines from Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy. I have memorized these poems and carry them around with the other poems I have memorized.
My fears and grief from that day are so strong, so intense and demanding, that I cannot manage them; they are beyond anything else I have ever known by an gigantic margin. When that sudden, inexplicable deep fear and anxiety from that day in Manhattan returns unexpectedly, I reach for one of those four poems, turning them over in my mind. I don’t think of them as hopeful poems; to me they are mostly dark, a way of expressing and understanding my own fears and grief from that day. One of the poems, Fragment, is very dark. Then they are by degrees more hopeful, going from Try To Praise the Mutilated World to I, May I Rest in Peace, to Seamus Heaney. But to me they have always been dark poems, poems I reach for only when it is pitch black and I cannot imagine any future.
So why am I writing about this?
Well, because these days I think about our coming child a lot. Every minute, just about. And I have been thinking about poetry for him – even writing a poem for him. Last night I was like Mark Strand: “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. / There is no happiness like mine. / I have been eating poetry.” Eating poetry, gorging myself on its sweet fruit, looking for poems that spoke to the odd but gratifying mix of intense emotions that accompany the anticipation of my son. I was not coming up with much. But this morning Seamus Heaney’s lines came back to me as I brushed my teeth, and I wondered why that poem – a poem that I have always classified as one of my dark, September 11th poems – why that poem was coming to mind as part of the joy I am feeling around fatherhood:
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
It is a birth poem at it’s core, a vision of redemption for all of us. “Believe that a further shore / is reachable from here.” That’s what I believe for my son, for Asa – a vision of the world’s future that is hopeful, “…a great sea-change / on the far side of revenge”. My desires for Asa’s world are filling me with an energy and willfulness that I have not known before – it is something even beyond hope, it is a sort of parental ferociousness to bring about a better world.
I have been thinking a lot about what kind of life I want my son to have. I suppose this is a natural inclination. One thing that I noticed is that although both my wife and I love music, we’re not that musical. Neither of us read music; we play no instruments; we don’t sing. And this strikes me as a bit of travesty. Many of my earliest memories are musical – my mother singing, my father playing the guitar. I love this picture of my uncle playing the guitar for my niece (his grand-niece) Sophia – because I remember him playing the guitar like that for me when I was little.
A few days ago I heard this story on NPR about Brian Eno and his belief in the importance of singing together. Every week he gathers a group of a dozen or so people and together they sing. He even lists the songs they sing together:
Can’t Help Falling In Love
Love Me Tender
Keep On the Sunny Side
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
If I Had a Hammer
I’ll Fly Away
Down By the Riverside
Chapel of Love
Wild Mountain Thyme
Que Sera, Sera
I love this idea. I’m going to start a singing night for Asa. Anybody out there want to come over and sing with us? Suggested songs?
My wife is nine months pregnant and the baby is due now, literally any day. And so for the last couple of weeks we have spent our days waiting — waiting for Asa, which is what we’re pretty sure we’re going to call our boy. It is Sunday morning and it has been snowing steadily since Friday at noon, accumulating a significant amount of light powdery snow all around. It’s our first snow of the year and Rascal is beside himself with delight: snow is the most exciting thing possible in a little dog’s world. I’m not sure why; maybe because it means infinite digging, and there is nothing little terriers like more than digging.
The last couple of weeks have had frantic waiting – my to-do list prior to the baby’s arrival was gigantic, enormous, incomprehensible. But as the holidays have approached, and I’ve been able to get a lot done, things have slowed down. There are still a few urgent things, but generally the pace and meter of the waiting has slowed to a crawl, so that it is me, Morra, our dog, our cat, the snow and waiting. We’ve gone from an urgent, frantic waiting to a slow, waiting-out-a-blizzard, zen-like waiting. I am reminded of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; there is an early chapter in the book told from the point of view of the dog, Almondine. It is, I think, the only chapter in the book told from the dog’s point of view, and in my opinion it is the best chapter of the entire book, really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the book. And the chapter is about the dog, waiting. The dog knows she is waiting for someone or something; the dog is constantly poking around the house and barn – knows this thing she is waiting for is present but not here – and she is perplexed, but also excited, eager and patient. And then finally this thing arrives, and it is a baby boy, and Almondine understands this is what she has been waiting for.
So we’re waiting. Even the cat and the dog seem to understand we’re waiting for something, something exciting. Waiting for Asa.