Little Girl My String Bean My Lovely Woman

My daughter, at eleven (almost twelve), is like a garden.

Oh, darling! Born in that sweet birthday suit and having owned it and known it for so long, now you must watch high noon enter — noon, that ghost hour.

Oh, funny little girl — this one under a blueberry sky, this one! How can I say that I've known just what you know and just where you are?

It's not a strange place, this odd home where your face sits in my hand so full of distance, so full of its immediate fever.

The summer has seized you, as when, last month in Amalfi, I saw lemons as large as your desk-side globe —

that miniature map of the world —

and I could mention, too, the market stalls of mushrooms and garlic buds all engorged.

Or I think even of the orchard next door, where the berries are done and the apples are beginning to swell.

And once, with our first backyard,

I remember I planted an acre of yellow beans we couldn't eat.

Oh, little girl, my stringbean, how do you grow? You grow this way. You are too many to eat.

I hear as in a dream the conversation of the old wives speaking of womanhood. I remember that I heard nothing myself. I was alone. I waited like a target.

Let high noon enter — the hour of the ghosts.

Once the Romans believed that noon was the ghost hour, and I can believe it, too, under that startling sun, and someday they will come to you, someday, men bare to the waist, young Romans at noon where they belong, with ladders and hammers while no one sleeps.

But before they enter

I will have said,

Your bones are lovely, and before their strange hands there was always this hand that formed.

Oh, darling, let your body in, let it tie you in, in comfort.

What I want to say, Linda, is that women are born twice.

If I could have watched you grow as a magical mother might, if I could have seen through my magical transparent belly, there would have been such ripening within: your embryo, the seed taking on its own, life clapping the bedpost, bones from the pond, thumbs and two mysterious eyes, the awfully human head, the heart jumping like a puppy, the important lungs, the becoming —

while it becomes!

as it does now, a world of its own, a delicate place.

I say hello to such shakes and knockings and high jinks, such music, such sprouts, such dancing-mad-bears of music, such necessary sugar, such goings-on!

Oh, little girl, my stringbean, how do you grow? You grow this way. You are too many to eat.

What I want to say, Linda, is that there is nothing in your body that lies.

All that is new is telling the truth.

I'm here, that somebody else, an old tree in the background.

Darling, stand still at your door, sure of yourself, a white stone, a good stone —

as exceptional as laughter you will strike fire, that new thing!

July 14,

A LITTLE UNCOMPLICATED HYMN for Joy is what I wanted to write. There was such a song!

A song for your kneebones, a song for your ribs, those delicate trees that bury your heart; a song for your bookshelf where twenty hand-blown ducks sit in a Venetian row;

a song for your dress-up high heels, your fire-red skate board, your twenty grubby fingers, the pink knitting that you start and never quite finish;

your poster-paint pictures, all angels making a face, a song for your laughter that keeps wiggling a spoon in my sleep.

Even a song for your night as during last summer's heat wave where your fever stuck at 104 for two weeks, where you slept, head on the window sill, lips as dry as old erasers, your thirst shimmering and heavy as I spooned water in, your eyes shut on the thumping June bugs, the lips moving, mumbling, sending letters to the stars.

Dreaming, dreaming, your body a boat, rocked by your life and my death.

Your fists wound like a ball, little fetus, little snail, carrying a rage, a leftover rage

I cannot undo.

Even a song for your flight where you fell from the neighbor's tree hut, where you thought you were walking onto solid blue air, you thought, why not?

and then, you simply left the boards behind and stepped out into the dust.

O little Icarus, you chewed on a cloud, you bit the sun and came tumbling down, head first, not into the sea, but hard on the hard packed gravel.

You fell on your eye. You fell on your chin.

What a shiner! What a faint you had and then crawled home, a knocked-out humpty dumpty in my arms.

0 humpty-dumpty girl,

1 named you Joy.

That's someone's song all by itself.

In the naming of you I named all things you are . . .

except the ditch where I left you once, like an old root that wouldn't take hold, that ditch where I left you while I sailed off in madness over the buildings and under my umbrella, sailed off for three years so that the first candle and the second candle and the third candle burned down alone on your birthday cake. That ditch I want so much to forget and that you try each day to forget.

Even here in your school portrait where you repeat third grade, caught in the need not to grow — that little prison —

even here you keep up the barrier with a smile that dies afraid as it hides your crooked front tooth.

Joy, I call you and yet your eyes just here with their shades half-drawn over the gunsights, over your gigantic knowledge, over the little blue fish who dart back and forth, over different streets, the strange rooms, other people's chairs, other people's food, ask, "Why was I shut in the cellar?"

And I've got words, words that dog my heels, words for sale you might say, and multiplication cards and cursive writing that you ignore to teach my fingers the cat's cradle and the witch's broom.

Yes! I have instructions before dinner and hugs after dinner and still those eyes —

without guilt.

And I can only say a little uncomplicated hymn is what I wanted to write and yet I find only your name. There was such a song, but it's bruised. It's not mine.

You will jump to it someday as you will jump out of the pitch of this house. It will be a holiday, a parade, a fiesta! Then you'll fly.

You'll really fly.

After that you'll, quite simply, quite calmly make your own stones, your own floor plan, your own sound.

I wanted to write such a poem with such musics, such guitars going; I tried at the teeth of sound to draw up such legions of noise; I tried at the breakwater to catch the star off each ship; and at the closing of hands I looked for their houses and silences. I found just one.

you were mine and I lent you out.

I look for uncomplicated hymns but love has none.

March 1965

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Responses

  • veronica de luca
    What is the tone of Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman?
    2 months ago

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