Bed time reading

Every night, the routine is this: (some nights) bath, a little playing on bed, lotion, pjs, read a book or two, say good night to everything in the bedroom, and then off to bed. And the Boy appears to have my sleep genes, which allow one to fall asleep within minutes. The book reading is mostly just about allowing him to turn pages right now. But we are all looking forward to when reading actually becomes an important part of the experience. My sister and her husband have a little bit of a competition going in terms of voices of characters when it comes to bedtime story reading. And it appears that Obama is in that camp, where it’s fun and important to get into the reading of the story. That’s what I anticipate doing, too.

And then, from my father, I received this poem, by Reed Whittemore, whom he knew long ago and who just passed away. I had never heard of him, but I loved the poem.

by Reed Whittemore

I go digging for clams once every two or three years
Just to keep my hand in (I usually cut it),
And I’m sure that whenever I do so I tell the same story
Of how, at the age of four, I was trapped by the tide
As I clammed a sandbar. It’s no story at all,
But I tell it and tell it. It serves my small lust
To be thought of as someone who’s lived.
I’ve a war too to fall back on, and some years of flying,
As well as a high quota of drunken parties,
A wife and children; but somehow the clamming thing
Gives me an image of me that soothes my psyche
Like none of the louder events: me helpless,
Alone with my sandpail,
As fate in the form of soupy Long Island Sound
Comes stalking me.

I’ve a son now at that age.
He’s spoiled. He’s been sickly.
He’s handsome and bright, affectionate and demanding.
I think of the tides when I look at him.
I’d have him alone and sea-girt, poor little boy.

The self, what a brute it is. It wants, wants.
It will not let go of its even most fictional grandeur,
But must grope, grope down in the muck of its past
For some little squirting life and bring it up tenderly
To the lo and behold of death, that it may weep
And pass on the weeping, keep the thing going.

Son, when you clam,
Watch out for the tides and take care of yourself,
Yet no great care,
Lest you care too much and talk of the caring
And bore your best friends and inhibit your children and sicken
At last into opera on somebody’s sandbar. Son, when you clam,

What a tremendous poem. The metaphor works so well and comes out gradually and in several ways. The telling and reciting of the poem. The breaking of lines, cutting the story off as the boy was cut off. The echo of the boy in the man and the man in the past. The parallel of self and clammer, digging in to the “muck of the past” for something. The mortality of being and having children is interestingly portrayed here, and I am glad that my father shared the poem with me.


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