blackbirdonline journalFall 2009  Vol. 8  No. 2
print icon

Oskar's Cars
A mothering mind and the creative process

Anyone who knows my son Oskar knows how he feels about cars. And trucks. And heavy machinery.

Oskar falls asleep at night, between his father and me, tightly holding two small cars in each hand. We wake in the night rolling over the metal race cars and backhoes that he has tucked into bed with us. Every morning, he sits up half asleep and slightly frantic to search for the vehicles that he’s dropped in the night. His movements are still shaky and confused with sleep, adding to the urgency of finding the cars.

Every few days the cars in our bed change, but each morning Oskar remembers exactly which ones he must find between the blankets and under the pillows—he remembers exactly who he held in the night.

He can’t stand it until they are each accounted for, and back in his arms.

The sources of Love? The sources of Poetry?—The attention, the connections, and the details of one’s world loved and pieced together. Mother-splitting. Mother-echoing. Echolalia not only of the child, but also of his mother.

Sometimes we have had trouble understanding a new car’s name, or how he refers to it: Broken Truck, Old Blue Car, All-Terrain Vehicle, Red Race Car, Snow Tractor, and inexplicably, on a delivery van painted over with phoenixes, Agba Truck. But after a couple tries we, too, know his cars and trucks by the names he gives to them. Between our house, his grandparents’ houses, and his great-grandma’s house, Oskar must name and care for two hundred cars.

The source of him. The source of the decision to love. Or how we came to love him.

Oskar has just turned two years old, and his love of cars has been enduring. His love of cars has covered more than half of his life.

But the first obsession he held was for cats.

He found and declared cats everywhere. He loved every cat—inspired, I know, by our own dear cat, Iris, who cuddled with him when he was an infant, in the months before she died. Oskar meowed in his sleep once. He wore the little cat outfit that he chose for Halloween when he was a year old—tight orange pants with black cats on them, a black vest with a pink cat nose and tongue, and cat ears on his head— with glorious pride for weeks. I had to hide the orange pants from him around Valentine’s Day—they were just too tight.

If my source of love, my source of poetry, used to be dream, memory, landscape, and feelings so intense as to alter, momentarily, the world that I shared with other people—now, Source is simply what my life has become.

If before, I pushed my head through and through some hole back into a childworld, a wombworld, a dreamworld, to gather a poem together, now I have fallen complete into that world. Now I attempt to push my head back out. Back into the world of time and chronology. Back into the world of words.

If before, my poems were lyric, outside of time or fixed place, then now my whole self is lyric. The world in which I live is outside of Time. Outside of fixed Place. Not outside of word, exactly, but parallel with word.

Vacuums did not replace cats, but he loved them equally and alongside one another for several more months. Even in the most unlikely of places, if Oskar hooted his word—“Vaaaa-coooooom!”—we looked until we found the vacuum. Once Oskar began to love vacuums, they were everywhere around us. We vacuumed four or five times a day. He knew which closet held the vacuum in each house or restaurant or place of business we frequented.

Everywhere we went, for those months of his life, our friends, neighbors, relatives, and barely acquaintances would pull out the vacuum and the cat for Oskar.

Then he had brief affairs with spatulas and clocks.

Since Oskar’s birth, I have both unhitched completely from time, and am shot through with bullets of pure small time. Daily time, moment-to-moment time. The paradoxes of time, the paradoxes of place, of identity, of separation and cohesion— they are more complete.

Paradox now moves in more than two directions— is more completely paradoxical than duality, than the pair of opposites both true at once.

Now, in this world where the ordinary is a miracle to Oskar, in this world where anything is possible and nothing yet constrained by language—and in this world where he and I are not yet separate human beings—everything is true for us at once. And everything is only partially true.

And nothing holds true at all.

But sometime before his first birthday, Oskar gave his heart to cars. And he hasn’t looked back. Cats and vacuums were completely forgotten. Spatulas and clocks were dropped cold and ignored. And by the time Oskar was a year and a half old, his vast vocabulary of animal sounds (he had dozens and dozens!), and his vigorous vacuum-motor growl, and his bird-like hooting of “vaaa-coooom,” and his sweet “tick-tock” to point out the clocks, and his surprisingly clear rendering of “spatula” at one year old, were replaced almost entirely by his Car-and-Truck vocabulary.

If every opposite had to be the perfect opposite of twelve other things simultaneously, and if each of those twelve things lived in twelve different dimensions, and if truth and reality melted into dream and possibility like butterscotches melting—this is how I now experience paradox.

The only descriptions I have for this mothering feeling are physical.

The only descriptions I can muster have to squeeze themselves back down into the four mere dimensions of which we speak.

He can now communicate almost anything in the world by speaking Car-and-Truck with us. And we are learning to communicate back with him, I believe, in Car-and-Truck.

I mean this: there is something I can’t yet explain about poetry and about mothering. I don’t want to make parallels; they aren’t parallel. A baby is not a poem, and a child has nothing in common with a book.

But it is true that women are saying something about mothering and poetry. And saying it more and more. There are anthologies. There are entire courses and writing programs. This isn’t new, what I’m struggling to explain. But it still feels… unexplained. Or perhaps truer, it feels inexplicable.

Oskar doesn’t just enjoy cars and trucks. He isn’t just interested in cars and trucks. He attachment-parents his cars and trucks, says my husband. Last night, he bathed each of a dozen or so cars he took into the bathtub with him. We washed Oskar. He washed his cars. We poured water over his hair while he covered his eyes, and then as quickly as possible we wiped off his face with a towel while he sputtered trustingly. Then he poured water over his cars to rinse them off and wiped their front bumper as quickly as he could with his wet washcloth. Before he left the tub, he asked me to dry off each of his cars in his waiting towel. Only after they were dried off, and set in a straight line on the counter, could I dry and put pajamas onto my son.

What is happening? What is happening?

I want to whisper this question over and over to anyone watching my life, hearing me, seeing me, these two years after Oskar’s birth.

Oskar wants to understand his cars, and he wants to be understood by them.

Neuroscientists and mythologists describe the brain like the tree of knowledge. Dendrites and neurons and pathways that connect and reconnect and push endlessly out through the body and into the ether.

Push out from the tops of our heads like roots and trunks and leaves made of the material and made of the invisible.

Right now he is sitting on my lap, watching a cartoon that features talking cars and trucks, and he is holding four cars that look like the characters in the movie: Old Blue Car, Police Car, Broken Tow Truck, and Red Race Car.

When Oskar’s hands were even tinier than they are now, he held just one car in each. Now that he is two, he can just barely manage to hold two cars in each hand. For over a year, for more than half of his entire life, I haven’t seen him for more than a few moments without at least two cars in his hands.

I’m saying something like this: motherhood has wiped that tree in my mind clean away, and left me pure soil. Motherhood has wiped the tree away, and left pure space.

Motherhood took the tree, and left me air, soil, space.

When I dressed Oskar this morning, he set down Yellow Stripe Car, Pumper Truck, Mama’s Car, and Yellow Bug Car, and stuck his arms straight up in the air. I pulled his pajama top off. He bent down again and touched each of the cars where he’d set them on the floor, while I unfolded today’s shirt. He stood back up, stuck his arms straight up in the air again, and I pulled the shirt onto him as quickly as I could. Then, almost frantically, as if he’d set his own baby down in the middle of the road, he picked up his cars again, and arranged all four of them, with difficulty, in his tiny hands.

This shirting process probably sounds reasonable, but it is a compromise a long time in the making. For months, we stretched his sleeves and tugged them, one at a time, over his fist and its two cars—neither of us able to endure the agony of taking his beloveds right out of his hands.

And where this soil, and air, and space are, I tell my husband, a new tree of knowledge is growing to replace my lost mind.

And exactly where my new tree of knowledge is growing, I tell him, within it and around it—this is where Oskar’s tree of knowledge is growing.

And exactly where my tree and Oskar’s tree are growing, simultaneously and in that exact spot, are the trees of every other mother that ever there was. And of every other child that ever there was.

And exactly where my new tree grows, I tell him, there grows also my own childhood’s tree.

I asked Oskar today what he wanted for Christmas. All of your grandparents need to know, I told him, they’ve been hounding me. But he didn’t understand the question. So I asked him instead: What do you wish you could play with, little Oskar? Right now, what would you like to play with? He responded: raindrops and tow trucks.

And these billions of trees are made of materiality and invisibility.

And the joint of the material mind and the invisible mind, is it language?

Oskar wakes in the morning exceedingly tender from his dreams. He wakes from his nap in the afternoon exceedingly tender from his dreams. During these times, he won’t put his cars down, not even to eat. Mama feed, he will say, with two cars tight in each hand. Several cars arranged around his plate. I feed him because I, too, wish someone would feed me while I held him, newly from my dreams.

What I could try to tell you is that in mothering, I’ve lost the mind that I had before. I’ve lost my solitude, my body, my privacy, my time, my concentration. Mothering, I have lost my seriousness, my access, my connection to, my inclusion. Mothering, I have lost my sleep, my dreams, my mornings, my nights, my money, my job, and my time with other adults and other poets. As a pregnant woman, as a nursing woman, as a mothering woman, I have lost nearly all of the ways and props and yearnings and communities that defined who I previously understood myself to be. What I mean is, I no longer remember or recognize myself, mothering as I am.

Oskar began to love cars during the months he was sick. At one year old, around the time we moved from Phoenix to the Olympic Peninsula, Oskar began to get fevers. For the next several months we spent much time with doctors, in emergency rooms, at Children’s Hospital. On and off medications. I associate his love of cars with his decision to remain in his body—imperfect, painful, material.

However, who I am now is becoming deeply known to me. Or, I might say, I am simply becoming this new woman— this strangely concentrated and scattered, more selfless, bodied woman.

I remember a different woman as Sarah, as poet, as lover, and as friend.

She has been cast through with a clear and splitting shadow, shearing a hard and enveloping clear space. Split. Clarity. Bright shadow.

Wide sheets of glass slice through that body. That spirit and that mind.

I associate his love of cars with his body. Tiny and vulnerable and perfect. I associate his love of cars with his acquiring of language. Vulnerable and perfect.

It is not just a loss or confusion of my own body and my own personality and my own spirit of which I am trying to speak. It is a loss and confusion of time itself. A loss and confusion of material itself. Of invisibility and quiet themselves.

A loss and confusion of way.

The thousands of hours of breastfeeding, day and night. The thousands of hours of helping him fall asleep. Two years of not being separated from him for more than four or five hours at a time. Being more than doubled, and less than whole. An imposed, and self-imposed, form of meditation. Of sitting. Of bondage, claustrophobia, need, responsiveness, selflessness, koan.

Now that Oskar is born, we are sure to visit my parents in Montana several times a year. On the most recent trip, it took my parents a few days to key into Oskar’s emerging car language. My mom sat down next to Oskar where he lay on the floor, surrounded by the dozens of cars that they keep waiting for him at their home, in a cupboard in the family room. He arranged, rearranged, held each in turn, flipped them over and over again, kissed the places they were scratched, and said little things to them. They are the center of my parents’ home to Oskar. They are proof, to him, of the heart of my parents’ home. He is solitary with his cars and trucks unless someone takes the initiative to join him.

Oskar is still so tiny. He weighs just 22 pounds. He is only 25 months old, and it’s sometimes difficult to understand his words if you don’t know him well.

I sat down with my mom and my son. He pulled five or six cars into a line, and said: “combibibil.” He was right: he had just pulled out every convertible from the pile on the floor.

But I am still all those things: daughter, friend, lover, and poet. Sister, teacher. Though now I have four to six legs, three or four hearts, the perspective of a two-year-old, of a baby in utero, of a thirty-five-year-old American woman. And now, of women ancient and of all time. A woman of anyplace in any world.

A female of any kind of animal.

Then Oskar put the convertibles back into the pile of cars around him. He pulled out several others, and told us: spoiler. These all had spoilers. Then he nuanced the spoiler cars one at a time: White stripe spoiler. Fast spoiler. Broken spoiler. Black spoiler. Old spoiler.

I don’t notice, or believe, or feel what I noticed, believed, or felt before. I don’t know if I want what I wanted before, or act how I acted before. I am certain that I don’t look how I looked before, or do the things that I used to do.

Before what.

Not only before his body entered whole into my life. But sometime when his body was growing in my body. Sometime during the hours that his body was leaving my body.

His body. My body.

Then Oskar pointed to several cars that he had not pulled into his spoiler pile, turned his hands upside down and shrugged—shook his head— and said incredulously: No spoiler! Pointed again and again to different cars: No spoiler! No spoiler!

I joined him—and just as incredulously showed him a few others cars with, holy shit, no spoiler!

The quietest part of my most private self is filled with the constant vigilance toward him.

My quietest, most private self is no longer turned inward. Is no longer turned toward my own heart and history—it is completely submerged within the fluid infancy in which my son, and now my sons, are living.

When I have wrenched my own quiet self back, when I’ve pulled my own attention around, as my son pulls me at night—grabbing my nose, my chin, my hair to pull me around to him—to breathe softly on his forehead until he settles back down into his sleep—then this quietness that was once mine has felt only like a vacancy. Like something that is his, which I have ripped away from his baby hands and heart. Like I’ve stolen and killed cars.

If I am not completely focused on him, it’s as if I’ve done, and am doing, nothing at all.

I picked up Old Striped Convertible, turned it upside down, and showed him: Axle. This was a new word to him. The axle is just a little line etched into the bottom metal plate on the car. One by one, he turned over the dozens of the cars in front of him, and showed me: Axle. Or, No axle! with the same shrug, hands upside-down, wide-eyed shake of the head. With his lovely incredulous voice— because for him, it is just as absolutely strange and wonderful that there is an axle as it is that there is No axle!

My private quiet has not yet returned to me as a living quiet, as a rich and filled silence for myself. This attention is no longer mine to give to myself, I can’t make it mine again.

My mom watched us, listened for a while, then joined in the conversation. Roll bar, she showed him. He knew this one, and quickly pulled out all of the trucks and race cars and all-terrain vehicles and convertibles with roll bars. Then he nuanced for her: Little roll bar. Red roll bar. All-terrain-vehicle roll bar. He saw that she understood, so he showed her a couple more things about the cars. He pointed out all the vehicles with running boards. All the vehicles with exhaust pipes. All the vehicles with trunks or with no trunks.

I don’t know yet what I am saying about mothering and poetry. Nor to whom. I’m still in the middle of mothering. I’m not only mothering this two-year-old boy of ours, I am also pregnant with our second son.

And pregnancy is its own spectacular liminal space. Pregnancy, quite apart from mothering, is its own wild and altered world of the highest pitch and waiting.

Then he showed her all the sirens—and he made the siren noises to show her the difference between police, ambulance, and fire-truck sirens. He showed her the flashing lights on the work vehicles that make no noise. No siren, he said to her. Flash! Flash! Flash! he said, and opened his palms and fingers wide each time he repeated the word.

To experience the space of pregnancy simultaneously with the space of mothering—I have no ability to move beyond our worlds, Oskar’s and mine, the baby’s and mine, together in our deep soil.

I wish you could see how tiny he is. If you could picture how joyful, these first times, ever in this life, of making himself understood in such detailed ways. And to people who aren’t his father and me, who, I think, he still considers extensions of his own self. And to be understood about something he cares for so deeply.

I have no pausing within time or space—and so, do I have no space or time? Do I have no poems? No place to stop, gather a thought together with its words, or take stock—something I used to find, if not in my moments solitude, then within some quiet part of myself.

But the stocktaking, the poetry making, is nonetheless happening without my participation. Without any consent, without my will. As the pregnancy happened of its own accord within me. As all these trees are growing, palimpsest-style, on top of and inside of one another, without my doing them. Without my making any of them.

The poems create themselves of their own accord, whether or not written­, with and in me.

This quality of mind is not something I am doing—it is being done. My mind is out of my hands.

My heart is out of my hands.

From the pile of cars and trucks on the floor, Oskar showed my mother each hood that could open, each engine that was visible, and a few of the vehicles that had gas tank lids. He showed her all the construction vehicles that had “Steel tracks—no wheels!” The chute and the drum on his cement mixer, and the hooks, arms, levers, and bins on each of his tow trucks.

I haven’t been left alone, completely alone, with the exception of a few car rides and a few showers, a few very early mornings like this one, since our first son was conceived three years ago. And even in these times of aloneness—I am counting down my minutes, listening for his cry, aware that he is aware that I am not there. My husband and I refer to these times as my window. My window is closing, I say, and end or abandon what I might have been doing away from him.

My mother looked to me to translate some of his words—but Oskar was delighted beyond delight when she understood him without my help. He did anything he could so that she would understand without my help.

And these moments of physical separation from Oskar do hold a time-and-space quality that feels exactly like glass. Like sheets of glass moving up and down, twisting and separating in the shadowy and exceedingly bright world in which I now live. Adjoining the things that are not truly able to be separated—like sheets of glass splitting air. And I am constantly aware that in my absence, there is the possibility he might not be cared for. That he will, in my most instinctive brain, in my most infant-bonded, most natural brain, simply die without me.

Oskar pointed. He made noises. He performed elaborate body demonstrations to help my mother, for example, distinguish between the shovels and the blades.

His entire tiny body shook with the effort of demonstrating the strength, movement, and sound of the blade on the imaginary dirt. His itty chubby hand across the dirt and stone—straight and stiff and shaking with the effort—his hand is the blade. “Bade,” he said. “Bade, bade, bade.”

Then his face contorted with the effort and noise of the shovel. “Shubidul” he grunted, as if he was lifting something very, very heavy with the shovel, which was his whole arms—and dumped the load into my mother’s lap.

When I have pulled myself out of my son’s world, it has been with relief. It has also been with pain. With regret for leaving him. With a profound lack of him. When I have pulled myself away from my son, a shift not physical, a shift invisible to the rest of the world, it has been with a sweet nostalgia for my own single heart, which, if I had it again to myself, I would hate it and hate it.

The only way to reach my favorite car in the world is to hike up the creek bed behind our house for half a mile, then turn right into a second tributary creek, and walk up the middle of that creek bed for another couple of miles. There, at the bottom of a two-hundred-foot waterfall, in the middle of the rainforest, are the remains of an old Thunderbird. In the pool beneath the falls, and twisted in between huge boulders for many yards down the creek, are the body and parts of this Thunderbird. I truly can’t imagine how it got there—there are no roads. Not to the bottom of this remote waterfall in the Olympic National Forest, nor to the top of the waterfall.

Yet someone, somehow, pushed this Thunderbird off the waterfall decades ago. After driving miles of washed out logging roads. After pushing it down through the heavily wooded mountain and to the lip of the falls. Then—with what I imagine to be absolute destructive satisfaction—the driver pushed the bird over the edge. To where it has been preserved and erased in the pools and boulders ever since.

My husband has asked me, What do you mean, losing your mind? Can you explain, Love, can you tell me? I am, he has told me, a little different to him now. He can tell that something is sometimes profoundly different about how I think, about how I move through the world. There is something different to how I connect, or cannot connect, with our world. There is something different about my poems.

But could I tell about losing my mind, as I used to know my mind? The fog, the memory loss, the sleeplessness, the sweeps and washes of hormones—I’m sure you’ve heard of this, or felt it yourself. There are the small indications. I struggle for everyday words… What is the word that means you don’t think something is as good as it really is? I ask my husband, three or four times, over the course of an afternoon.

The thunderbird is a supernatural bird of the Pacific Northwest. It creates thunder with the flap of its wings.

And it’s a mistake, I ask him again, for you should think it is better. You should recognize how good it is, so the fault is your own. I explain and explain this word I need. Finally, Underestimate? He finds the word for me.

We have done this hike with Oskar on his father’s back, climbing over and under the trees that have fallen into the creek. The only viable route to the waterfall is through the middle of the creek in knee- and waist-high water—the banks are too overgrown or too steep, and there is no other worn path. Each time Oskar has been to the waterfall, he has had the same response. He has seen this precious car, this broken car, this drowned and twisted Thunderbird in pieces between huge boulders—and then begged us to bring what is, in his eyes, the Savior Vehicle of the world. The Mother-and-Father Vehicle, the God Vehicle itself: “Get tow truck?”

Get tow truck? Get tow truck? Get tow truck?

Could we get a tow truck. Could we help. He was both mesmerized and heartbroken. Tow truck, he repeated again. Tow truck. His little cars were clutched in his hands while he watched the water run over the thunderbird. Tucked safely into the pack on his father’s back… he put his face to his father’s neck and sobbed. His body, as it is whenever he sees something he loves hurt, was racked with sobs.

But my husband has experienced the same sleeplessness, the same otherworldliness of Oskar. The same every-single-moment dedication to his needs, to his heart, to his safety. Is there a difference between a mothering mind and a fathering mind? Does he feel as if he has lost, or completely changed, the quality of his mind? The quality of his way in the world.

They say the thunderbird is the source of rain, gathering clouds together with its wings.

They say lightning is the blink of its eyes. Lightning is the glowing snake the thunderbird carries as it flies.

There was a period of a month or so in the first year of Oskar’s life when the only words he could say, or would say, were not words at all—but animal sounds. He had gestures and facial expressions and elaborate noises for all the animals he saw in his world or in his books. And these were not stylized noises—no meows or moos or woof-woofs—but realistic, loud, animalistic cries and shrieks and barks and trumpets and grunts. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends brought Oskar animals sounds from all over the world—and on request, Oskar would go through his litany. His symphony!

Oskar, what does a monkey say? Ooooo-oooo-ooooo-AAAAH! AAAAAH! (Arms out and waving)

For Oskar, cars are love and privacy. He shares his love and his intimate baby self through a language that he does not separate from his body.

As I do not yet separate him from my body.

Oskar, what does an elephant say? Mmmmmnnnnn-Eeeeeeehhhoooowww! (Right shoulder pressed to nose and arm lifting, like a trunk).

Walrus? Gruuugh-Gruuuugh-Gruuuuuuuuugh (Body hunched over, arms and tiny chunky fingers pointing down like tusks).

Seal? Aaaarp! Aaaaarp! Aaaaarp! (Nose lifted and bouncing at each bark).

Fish? Pop-bop-pop (Noise made just with lips, almost silent. Lips pursed and cheeks sucked in. Waving his face gently as if navigating a gentle, deep current.)

Some say the thunderbird can appear as a boy who speaks backwards.

Oskar has not separated language from love. Or love from material.

Oskar has not separated hands from faces from body from language from love.

We would ask him faster and faster. He’d respond faster and faster! Horse? Neeeeiiiiiiiighhhh….hhhhhmmmnn. Cow? MMmmmmnnnnnnoOOOOO. Big dog? GrrrAAAArgh! GrrrrrrAAAArgh! Little dog? Riiiif, ripriprip, rrrrrriiiiifff! Flamingo? (Completely silent—Oskar would lift his right knee up in front of him, stand very straight on one leg.) Crow? KAAAH! KAAAAAH! Crocodile? Kkrrr-(SNAP with teeth!) Krrr-(SNAP with teeth!) Mouse? (Whimper-squeak in the back of his throat with his mouth closed.) Snake? Sssssssssss…… Sssssssssss……. Ssssssssssss. (His body, calm, swayed slowly.)

The origin of noise, of thunder. The carrier of the message; warlike and divine.

Parrot? Pig? Hippopotamus? Rooster? Duck? Tiger? Ostrich? Buffalo? Bear? Bobcat? Baby chick! Pelican! Hyena!

I’ve tried to explain to my husband, who is also a poet, what it is like to write poems now that I am a mother.

I tell him that my entire mind and body used to focus on the feel, the nuance, the depths of my experiences, my memories, my thoughts, the conversation I was in.

I remind him I could hold dozens of books, thousands of lines, images, colors, ideas, words, concepts, connections… I used to hold the connections together! In-place, somewhere inside of me, a gorgeous pattern of wild and true connections that I’d made of the world and my life.

They say the thunderbird only flies to carry messages from spirit to spirit.

This was the place of my poetry. This was a sacred, magical, tender place that my poems, if not came from, then came through.

You should never approach the nest of a thunderbird.

But now, if my memory is not completely dissolved and disappeared—then it is simply so altered as to be unrecognizable to me.

You should never anger a thunderbird.

Oskar was furious with me last night for brushing his teeth. He was tired and disgusted and pissed that I’d brushed his teeth. He was just fucking pissed.

How to show me how pissed he was? The three cars that he’d been carrying everywhere with him for the past few months—his babies, his favorites, his cherished—he threw them, one after another, as far and as hard as he could, while sobbing and screaming at the top of his lungs. The cars landed several feet away from him. Wild! Desperate! He threw himself to the floor and stretched out his whole body toward them, as if they were slipping below the ice in front of him, until I picked them up and handed them back.

Now, I tell my husband, the haze, the warm soup of sweet generality has swept my mind. But at the same time, I instantly memorize the absolute millions of details of Oskar. My mind is pierced, clean-through, again and again, until I have no concentration for anything except the minutest details of his body, his diet, his smells, his variations in temperature, how he is sleeping, curled between us. What he feels like, what he has noticed.

But at the same time, something in me, something I used to participate in more directly, that something (or someplace?) is sustaining the poems on its own.

Composing and waiting, wordless until I arrive.

But at the same time. But in the same space.

Again Oskar stood up and threw the three cars, as far and as hard as he could, while screaming and sobbing. And again he threw himself to the floor, stretched out his body, desperate, wild, toward them. Until I picked them up, and handed them back.

If the thunderbird has fallen behind my home.

This is nothing like before.

I retrieved the cars six or seven times. Eventually, Oskar stopped crying, stopped screaming, stopped throwing. He held his rejected cars to his chest, murmured to them something I couldn’t understand, and fell asleep between us while his father rubbed his forehead, and I rubbed his back. He had made his point perfectly.

I try to find words to tell my husband. I tell him that now I have a deeply cleaved mind, interrupted at intervals of every few seconds, every few milliseconds—by my son, or by myself—because, I still believe, he will die if I’m not always attending to him. And it is true, isn’t it, that he might.

They say the thunderbird flies off with little children and takes them to its home, a cave in the Olympic Mountains.

Cars and trucks have both captured and broken Oskar’s heart. If you were to meet Oskar, and if he were to hand you the car he was holding, it would be the equivalent of him pulling his own beautiful heart out of his body, and handing it to you to hold. Generous and brave, he has sometimes done this for his dearest and closest loves.

Some core of mine is unerringly, unfalteringly focused. Yet the whole shell of me is a reflective mosaic. Each of its trillion pieces uniquely angled.

Angled toward him who is angled toward the world.

They say the thunderbird has no body, only wings.

Cars and trucks are an extension of Oskar’s loving. They are a means of his loving, and his way of showing attention. Oskar knows the models of cars and trucks of everyone close to him. No matter the color, Oskar can pick out cars that are the same model as my own anytime, anywhere. Mama’s blue car. Mama’s orange car. Mama’s red car, he says, pointing to the car like mine, but a different color, as we drive. The cars and trucks of those he loves are watched and memorized. Oskar notices new scratches on them, and has kissed our cars where they have been hurt, just as he has kissed his father and kissed me when we are hurt.

They say the wings of the thunderbird are longer than war canoes. Its feathers are longer than paddles.

It will carry in its claws a killer whale.

This week, Oskar and I shared heartache.

Knowing how he absolutely loves hoists at body shops, loves pretend-fixing his cars, I let him watch the mechanics raise my car to change the oil. But instead of fascination, my little son was devastated: Mama car down! Mama car down! Mama car down! No, no, no, no, no! He sobbed, his body convulsing, hiding his face in my neck while I held him and whispered: Mama’s car is okay. They are going to fix Mama’s car. Then I ran out the door with Oskar in my arms because he simply couldn’t bear to watch.

Is this hazy and shockingly bright Oskar’s-mother place the same magical place into which I would dip myself each morning I sat down to write, before Oskar was born, searching for the deep quiet, the bodiless love imbued, now and then, with words or sounds?

Is this the same place, released from time, into which I would fall after practicing yoga? The same place we all talk about, wait for, go to if we can, for the world’s poems?

If so, then now I am thoroughly in that place—but instead of falling wholly into the Source of words for my poems, I am surprised to discover that the words hardly matter here. The words are not separate from each other, not separate from bodies, not separate from soil or light. Here, the words are animal sounds, gestures, grunts and growls and instincts. Or, the words have a focus and a context so tiny and so specific—the etched metal line on the bottom of a particular tiny metal car—as to be both exaggeratedly meaningful, and meaningless.

When the killer whale and the thunderbird fight, trees are torn out of the soil by the roots.

Now, am I simply inside of a wild and fractured poem. A love poem.

Their fights leave only soil and air.

Now, I struggle to find ways to stick my head back out into the other world.

I struggle to find paths and ways back to the place where the shared words and a common quality to minds do matter.

If only to remind myself where this is headed: my child will grow. He will acquire language. He will lose his glorious infant mind. We will become two separate people. We will again live in the living world of materials.

I will be alone again with myself, won’t I?

My own mother tells me it never ends. She tells me I will never sleep well again. That I will never sleep deeply even one more night of my entire life, responsible only to my dreams. That she hasn’t slept well since my sister was conceived, forty-four years ago.

Their fights created the prairies.                      Their fights ripped out the trees.

The thunderbird is storm itself.
That sound has become a part of my life—my husband says—the way waves must sound to those who live by the ocean. He is referring to the soft clicking and rubbing noises that Oskar’s cars make as he adjusts them, moves them constantly in his hands. Oskar must constantly re-stack, re-arrange, in order to hold the cars securely. It’s true—I hadn’t thought of it until then, but I listen for the clicking to know where Oskar is in the room. To know if he is sleeping or awake in the car seat. I listen for the louder click or thud which means that he’s dropped the cars-—he is sound asleep, or he will be hollering for help in a moment.

But what has this to do with poetry.

The thunderbird will fly off with the boy who speaks backwards.

I could say that this is simply my most sincere life, noticed and loved in the minutest and vastest details of Oskar. I could say that I’m living in the source of language along with Oskar, as he acquires it. I could say his infant mind is a poem, and I am sharing that space with him. I could say he will lose his infant mind, and visit it again only periodically through art and drugs and magic and spiritual experiences.

I could say poetry is a love and an attention that is no different than Oskar’s loving attentiveness to the world through axles and spoilers and luggage racks and engine parts.

Some say the thunderbird is malevolent, killing children and reindeer and whales. Some say there are four thunderbirds of the four cardinal directions. Four thunderbirds of four colors.

Some say that the thunderbird will save us.

They say that language replaces infant memory. They say that around two or three, a child will not remember anything from infancy, birth, gestation. They say it isn’t until after we’ve each lost our infant mind that our permanent memories might be formed. And so, is it true, that Oskar might completely forget how he has loved his cars all this time?

I could tell my husband that I don’t write anymore, that I don’t think anymore, and that my mind is ruined for poetry. I could say that I can’t hold anything inside of my mind except for him and our sons. I could tell him that I don’t even care because our family—he, Oskar, this new baby boy inside of me—these are all that can matter. These are all that I can attend to. All I’d ever want to attend to again.

But what I actually believe is that I have, truly and simply, lost my mind.

The thunderbird has wings. But the thunderbird has no body.

All of nature, they say, moves clockwise. But the thunderbird flies counterclockwise.

I can’t be sure what remembering and forgetting are. I am certain, though, that Oskar’s whole heart and body and way of being in this world will always remember how tenderly and wildly he has loved his cars. I will remember.

But what I actually believe is that I have acquired and lost minds, like set after set of baby teeth, many times throughout my life. I believe all of my minds still exist, resonant palimpsests, within and out of my body.

What I actually believe is my new mind has a different holding quality. A different releasing quality. A different relationship with Time, who hangs my own childhood next to my son’s—our minds and memories are dozens of sheer sheets buffeting and curling in the wind—and we look through them all as we live.

What I actually believe is that I have a brand-new mind, born around the time Oskar was born.

I have an unusual number of early childhood memories. My family moved several times when I was very young. By the placement of memories in the different houses in which I lived, I can roughly tell how old I was. I know, for example, that I have dozens of memories from before I turned two. Oskar is just two right now.

I believe that my new mind loves poetry even better for having loved Oskar.

Some say the thunderbird can appear as the boy who speaks backwards.

That it holds and cherishes detail better for having held and cherished the details of Oskar. That someday, like vacuums and cats and cars and trucks, I will simply love better and better what I love, for having loved and broken so completely in the childhoods of my children.

For me, cars were horses. I had horse posters on my bedroom wall. I had horse notebooks for school. I had colts and fillies on my T-shirts, with rainbows and their mamas behind them.

I think all women must do this? Some other women do this? How could this not happen to a mother.

What is a mind to a father.

The thunderbird first arrived with a brightness that cut through the dark.

I eventually had a real horse. First I rode him bareback, then I took riding lessons in a saddle. I drew pictures of him in my notebooks at school. I drew hearts with both of our names in it: Sarah & Tonga.

My mind resembles to me the act of reading certain kinds of poems. Poems with a narrative even further fractured. Poems with transitions even more wild, more intuitive, less controlled by gravity and time. A poem in several voices.

And at times, my mind resembles a poem whose single image is sustained. And sustained. Sustained longer than I ever knew I could sustain a single strand of concentration.

I collected Breyer horses and arranged them along a shelf across a whole wall of my bedroom. I knew all the breeds, all the horse parts, and all the famous horses. I read all the horse books, and took riding lessons for years. Eventually I went to horse shows. My relationships with horses became the basis of many of my relationships with family, with friends, with boyfriends. Tonga was more of a compassionate, solid, loving and giving man to me than any other until my mid-twenties, when he passed away. Ancient, swaybacked, and blind.

My mothering mind resembles an ancient poem.

Mothering has made my body indistinguishable from the bodies of many others. Mothering has, for weeks at a time, dissolved the fact of mind at all.

I am dissolved into the fact of body, altogether—I am so completely overwhelmed with bodiness that there is no longer a specific body.

The thunderbird’s first message was a noise that broke the sky.

The love, attention, fascination, and dedication I held for horses aren’t different from my love of poetry. From any love I’ve experienced.

Mothering has broken my mind beyond falling in love.
Mothering has broken my mind beyond grieving.

Oskar and I have never been, in either of our lives, what I could describe as people of balance. Those who attend to little bit of everything, and curtail certain things to make room for other things. I have always been obsessive, overly focused on what was filling my life and my heart.

If the thunderbird has fallen behind my home. If the messages are washing clear in the waterfall.

And my husband is equally unbalanced. We all share a focus on detail that, after narrowing, narrowing, and narrowing will, we hope, explode out into the great patterns of the world. The great relationships and connections of the world.

Perspective split, heightened, then lullabied. Split, heightened,

then material. Another split. Another heightening. Lullaby.

I don’t know how my mind might split or grow or disappear or reappear when this new baby boy is born in a few weeks. I don’t know how this fracturing will.

If the thunder churns, counterclockwise, below the waterfall.

During these last few days, as I’ve been finishing this essay, we’ve also been finishing the details of Oskar’s Halloween costume. When I say to him now, Baby, you’re my baby, or Baby Oskar, or Oh my little tiny baby, he has replied, so kindly: I a boy. He now points to my enormous belly and says: Baby in there. I a boy. When I ask him: What is mama? He says: Mama big boy. What is Dada? Dada big boy. And when I asked him what he’d like to be for Halloween, he said, alternately: A boy! A tow truck! A boy. A tow truck.

The thunderbird carries the message from spirit to spirit.

We have pinned cardboard wheels to the sleeves of his shirt and the cuffs of his pants. We have attached cardboard rearview mirrors, covered in tinfoil, to each of his shoulders. We have a cardboard bumper with a personalized license plate: I TOE U FAR, attached to his front. A tow arm and tow cable attached to his rear. His candy bucket has a cardboard steering wheel taped to the top, with a clown nose tow-truck horn in the middle of it.

The thunderbird has no body, only wings.

Because certainly, like the tow truck he called out for at the waterfall, Oskar will be, on this eve of every saint, our Boy Tow Truck. Hero. Savior Boy of our world. God Boy. Boy of our love. The Mother-Father Boy.  end

return to top