Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Over the Threshold...When Does One Grow Up?

"Girl child", a very free verse poem that I wrote last century and then left buried in one of my many notebooks, surfaced in my mind today because of a friend who is generating conversation on that notorious platform called Facebook with this question:
 "How does one know when one has crossed the threshold into adulthood? An act, a thought, a rite of passage, an event, a milestone...Thoughts?"  
My poem was in response to a similar query in a writing workshop I took to meet continuing education units that the state required of my profession.  The workshop leader shared a prompt and set a time limit and participants scribbled away. After the set ten or twenty minutes of writing we were free to share or not what one's heart and pen had produced. 

Queried, "When did you know you had become a woman? "
this is likely only one of my answers,
but that day, it came out, just like this:


I was very clear about being a girl child,
a girl child who could run and climb and dig and build,
a girl child who could sew and color and read and write poems.
A girl child who must come in now
and wash your hands and help
in the kitchen cutting piles 
of even circles of carrots, 
tiny disks of burning color 
while the orange sun sank 
without me 
into the Pacific fog of hill and shore
and the thin blue line of the horizons,
that by their very unattainable distances, 
were always inviting.

Then childhood itself was torn asunder,
or was it rolled up like a rug?
No, the carpet lay on the floor, dirty and now mine to clean. 
No woman in the house 
but this thirteen- year-old girl no longer a child 
with the work of my mother fallen to my limbs. 
How did she make that sauce? 
Do I unplug when the washer overflows? 
Will it electrocute me? 
Run to the neighbors. 
“Oh honey, why doesn’t your father hire a woman to help you?”  

There was no woman that could be hired
to help this girl at her real task.
What could make me a woman? 
Was it shoes with heels 
that made me feel the strength and length of my legs?  
Was it the jobs in the city,
the hunger in men’s eyes?  
The woman was hidden
in the girl child,
but the child fled
and no woman appeared. 

I suppose there were glimpses of her along the way
that a keen eye might have seen,
but she snuck up on me, 
sometime after college. 
When the ardent second childhood waned, 
she emerged;
neither as optimistic nor as angry, 
neither as guileless or as selfish,
not as foolhardy or as frightened. 
What made me a woman?  
When need gave way and 
the force of love 
forged through me
with eyes for others, 
and I forgave.


I didn't mention playing dress-up with my neighbor, but I did that too.