Jennifer Moxley

Winner of the William Carlos Williams Award in 2015

Lullaby


Had I had children along the way,
two boys, a girl, the perfect three,
wouldn't they have played the games
I see the children across the street play
in the backyard and driveway of their
parents' house: classic, old-time games,
the games I played all day in the pebbly
alleyway behind my parents' house:
hopscotch, hula hoop, jump rope, and tag?

Wouldn't they have been hesitant
to put an end to it, to come in for the
evening and eat the meal I had cooked?
They would not hear the words
of our adult talk, kicking each other
under the table, confronting the task
of the food-filled plate before the gaze
of the overseer. After dinner, my children,
snapped back into the set agenda
of adult time, would make a bid
to postpone the inevitable with shared
entertainments (better than none).

But I would only think of money
and time's loss. I would, having felt
lonely all day long, long to be alone.
High-minded and with proper stiffness
I would send them by turns into
the baffling isolation of their own
rooms. They would resist, for my
children would know that once
in the exile of that artificial darkness
their infantile pleas for compassion
would be silenced by the paralysis
of obedience and sounds that loom.

But wouldn't my children be able
to quiet their fears without me,
focusing their attention on the
near-to-hand—the faintly-lit
clock, the rumpled pattern
of the sheet, and so on? In silent
talk they'd learn their thoughts
and speak to the things beside them.

Then, fingers tapping a little charm
to fend off nightly evils, my children
would work quickly to lock their
secret inventory into future memory
before kidnapped by sleep.

 

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Ange Mlinko on Jennifer Moxley

The Open Secret quarrels with itself (Yeats: "Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry"). It is—appropriately enough, after John Berryman's recent centennary—a further implication of the first hemistichs of Dream Sonnet #14: "Life, friends, is boring" and "we must not say so." We must not say that children's inner lives repudiate their parents; we must not say that staying home to write is more of a treat than a dinner party; we must not say that rarified pleasures are small vanities, and smaller consolation. These are one kind of "open secret." Another kind is the open secret of myth and literature—the life of the mind—which easily scales the limits placed on us by the time, space, economics, you name it; it is the one appetite that vitalizes rather than vitiates us. While Moxley's brand of confessionalism doesn't flaunt the big emotions of Berryman or Lowell or Plath, it still strives for a representative view of a generation haunted by diminishing returns. By addressing us, her readers, as intimates, and by showing us her human face—its anxious or querulous aspects as well as its calm and self-determined ones—she enlarges the possibilities of friendship and camaraderie through poetry. She enlarges, that is, faith, in poetry, for all of us.

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