Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"First Lesson" by Philip Booth

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

This poem speaks maybe more directly than any others I know to that panicky fear that shakes me sometimes. I love the image (reminiscent of baptism) of the father cupping the daughter's head, teaching her to float on the water. The very definite rhyme - though completely unobtrusive and occasionaly slant - buoys up the lines invisibly, just like the water will hold up the daughter (head, Spread, dead-; dive, believe, survive; held you, told you, hold you, alternating with fear and light-year.) Right at the center of the poem is an interesting internal rhyme: Daughter with water - as if in some way the water and the daughter are really one substance - and thus no reason not to trust herself to it.

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