SELF-PORTRAIT BEFORE

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In the split between two boulders
behind the blue and orange playground,

the children are building nests
for when the hurricane comes.

Assembly line, they pass small piles of twigs
and—Faster!—last year’s leaves,

then climb inside with larger sticks for rowing.
April now, and the last storm has redrawn

all the Atlantic flood maps.
One more year until the Cartaret Islands

go down in the Pacific—
whole forests of nests past all rowing.

One morning last December,
my friend went in to wake her 2-year-old son,

and found him. Causes unknown,
the doctors said—some stuttered synapse

blanking inhale. What tide could bear this?
She wrote his obituary for the local news.

Is it tomorrow? my son asks at bedtime each night,
and in the morning asks again.

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Click here to read Anna Ross on the origin of the poem.

Photo: “Chas Bouldering at Bean Hollow” by Stephanie Sicore; licensed under CC BY 2.0

Anna Ross:

This poem began in interruption, as so many of my poems do lately. Motherhood and family and work life don’t leave me much time for contemplation, and I find myself collecting images and phrases as I go about my day and then writing them down at in between times. I suppose you could say that the poems themselves come from that in between of actual, physical and routine-driven life and more transcendental anxieties or questions.

 

The opening images of the poem took place at our local park. Weather had been in the news in the week or so leading up to this particular trip to the playground, specifically all of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy and other storms the previous fall and how these storms had damaged and reshaped the coastline. Because my children listen to almost as much NPR as I do, this information had caught their attention as well, apparently, because they began building “hurricane nests.” Of course, they aren’t aware of global warming and the climate burden that they’re inheriting from previous generations, but the combination of domesticity and threat that these nests seemed to represent reminded me of the tragic recent death of a friend’s two-year-old son from SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood). My own son is four, and abstract concepts such as the difference between “today” and “tomorrow”—when does one end and the other begin? are still difficult for him to grasp. His bedtime question seemed to capture the idea that we are all moving forward through our daily lives while simultaneously courting disaster, in whatever forms it finds us.