Poem of the Week

A Father Scrambles to Cope as Summer Raises His Daughters

Don't miss the beauty: Lyor Shternberg gains wisdom from a drop of water.

Wikimedia Commons

Daughters

Lyor Shternberg

My daughters chase through the house. The summer
is raising them well. Their bare feet dance
on new tiles. The elder twirls opposite the hi-fi
like a narrow flame, the summer browning her skin, igniting
her hair, steaming her fickle disposition into anger, relaxing
her head on my shoulder and pulling
the words of the story, tired, from my tongue
as out the window the evening slopes so slowly
down the neighborhood. Meanwhile, her sister
emphatically stomps her strong heels, babbles
the ancient song of babyhood, demands water
in a glass and sprays some on the living room floor, amazed.
God, why do I chase her with folded paper toweling
and this water is in fact a world spinning
on its axis, the taste of all days; for a very long time
one drop will flow in this summer that’s raising them
in its way, and bid me:
Look.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

The father in the poem credits “the summer” with doing a good job of raising his daughters.

Courtesy

Wearily, he posits no discrepancy between nature and nurture – nature seems to be the nurturer. The girls are growing up with ostensibly little input from the parent – but the action in the poem shows that this is not really the case. The father is entirely active here in the upbringing, telling the elder daughter a story, cleaning up a mess made by the younger girl.

Yet the feeling is accurate: Parents of young children often have this sense that family life is out of their control and some outside force keeps everything spinning along. Parents of grown children look back at those years and marvel: “How did we manage to do that?”

“God, why do I chase her,” wonders the tired father. Then there is an illumination:  “ this water is in fact a world spinning on its axis one drop will flow this summer and bid me: Look.”

The notion of an entire world in a drop of water is not new of course, but there are two new things in this extended image. First of all, the water spins on an axis, like a planet making day and night possible; the poem, we know, is set as evening “slopes so slowly down the neighborhood,” bedtime is drawing nigh and with it the promise of a few quiet hours.

Secondly, there is the water’s injunction to “Look.” In that single word, the subject of the poem develops from child-rearing to poetry, or artistry in general, or even life in general. The most important thing is to look, and to appreciate the moment.

Lyor Shternberg was born in 1967 in Petah Tikva. He now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughters and teaches literature and creative writing. He has published five poetry collections and is also a prolific translator of poetry, specializing in Irish and English poetry.

*Musing: Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) wrote

   The Choice

   The intellect of man is forced to choose
   perfection of the life, or of the work,
   And if it take the second must refuse
   A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
   When all that story's finished, what's the news?
   In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
   That old perplexity an empty purse,
   Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.

How is “Daughters” in conversation with this poem?