Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


As I speak, two of my nieces are great with child--make that "great with children." They're having twins. In the not too distance future, my mother, 89 years old, will have four new progeny. I've seen the pix.

Maybe that's why I like this morning's Writer's Almanac poem, a sweet little prophetic thing by Thomas Lux, from his 1990 book, The Drowned River.

Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child

Tadpole, it's not time yet to nag you
about college (though I have some thoughts
on that), baseball (ditto), or abstract

What's not to like right there from the first word?--the guy calls this yet be-wombed child, "Tadpole."

Enjoy your delicious,
soupy womb-warmth, do some rolls and saults
(it'll be too crowded soon), delight in your early
dreams -- which no one will attempt to analyze.

It's advice we'd like to give all kids--"be kids, before it's too late." Shoot, it's advice we give ourselves, even when we're sixty.

For now: may your toes blossom, your fingers
lengthen, your sexual organs grow (too soon
to tell which yet) sensitive, your teeth
form their buds in their forming jawbone, your already
booming heart expand (literally
now, metaphorically later); O your spine,
eyebrows, nape, knees, fibulae,
lungs, lips...

Sweet. How many times haven't I heard people say that the first thing they did when their baby came was count fingers and toes?

But your soul,
dear child: I don't see it here, when
does that come in, whence? Perhaps God,
and your mother, and even I -- we'll all contribute
and you'll learn yourself to coax it
from wherever:

If I wanted to be orthodox I could batter Mr. Lux here, but who cares? Who knows where the soul is, after all--or even what it is. It's us. It is, by definition, spiritual. It's someplace even beyond words.

your soul, which holds your bones
together and lets you live
on earth. -- Fingerling, sidecar, nubbin,
I'm waiting, it's me, Dad,
I'm out here. You already know
where Mom is.

Gotta love that last line, right: "You already know where Mom is." I wish I'd thought of that.

I'll see you more directly
upon arrival. You'll recognize
me -- I'll be the tall-seeming, delighted
blond guy, and I'll have
your nose.

What a darling last line. I'll be the one, he says, with your nose.

You got to love that poem, and if you're anywhere near a birth, it's got to be even sweeter.

When I saw the date of Mr. Lux's book just now--1990--I couldn't help thinking how charmed he must have been when someone from Garrison Keillor's organization, as if out of nowhere, gave him a call and told him that the old poem of his--"the one about an unborn child?" Keillor's people likely said, "--well, we'd like to use it in our daily calendar."

What a great smile must have grown on the man's face. You start to think a poem is dead and buried, and suddenly, well, not to be stupid--it's simply born again.

But there's another story too: the one about the kid, whether it's a boy or girl we still don't know. Do the math. Tadpole is at least 17 years old, if not much older by now. I wonder if Keillor's people called her--or him--to get permission. After all, the old man is wishing him baseball prowess, a booming heart, and sensitive sexual organs. How does the kid feel about getting his ultra-sound plastered over computer screens all over the world? He never asked to be in a poem.

And what happens if the Lux family is having problems right now? What happens if that 17-year-old is using needles or at military school? What happens if they don't know where he is? What happens if she's pregnant herself--or worse, what happens if she's just lost a baby? had an abortion? gave one away for adoption?

But then--who's to say there is a Tadpole? Maybe Poet Lux was simply imagining, as poet's do, as writer's do? What happens if Tadpole was never any more than an inspiration?

What ifs? We could "what if" this poem forever, I suppose.

Thomas Lux says his Iowa-born father was a milkman who one year worked 355 days in a row because, well, people had to have milk. He loved his father, respected him, but, he says, neither his mom or dad, neither of whom had a high school education, ever understood their boy's wanting to write poetry. They have his books on their coffee table, he says, but "it's all rather baffling to them."

I understand that. They lived in a world without poems--and certainly without ultrasound. But I'm guessing that at sometime and someplace years and years ago, a milkman sat somewhere in the front room of an Iowa farmhouse, looked over at his wife, great with child, and wondered what on earth would come of this new baby the two of them were just about to bring into the world.

Let's take a tally here. Who gets the joy this very morning? Lux, for this poem's miraculous rebirth; his son or daughter (if indeed there is one) for his or her ten minutes of acclaim; maybe even Grandma and Grandpa, when they're told about that poem Tom wrote when his wife was pregnant--that poem is going all over the world.

And me, certainly. And, now--hopefully--you. And maybe even my two nieces, who probably have some gray-ish ultra sounds under magnets on their own fridge.

What a blessing. That, old Mr. and Mrs. Lux should surely understand--how their son has, this morning, passed along the joy from the depths of his own mysterious soul.


Heidi said...

Thank you so much for putting this poem on your blog. . . I missed it on the Almanac. I for one (or two?)found it inspirational - to keep persevering and even enjoying this pregnancy and child during this advent season.

I'm a recent reader of your blog, and have enjoyed it more than many. Are you planning on continuing? No pressure from me.:)

Anonymous said...

"What happens if that 17-year-old is using needles or at military school?"

Really? Are you equating illegal drug use with the defense of a nation?