a poem on solitude
I’ve learned to live simply, wisely,
To look at the sky and pray to God,
And to take long walks before evening
To wear out this useless anxiety.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
And the yellow-red clusters of rowan nod,
I compose happy verses
About mortal life, mortal and beautiful life.
I return. The fluffy cat
Licks my palm and sweetly purrs.
And on the turret of the sawmill by the lake
A bright flame flares.
The quiet is cut, occasionally,
By the cry of a stork landing on the roof.
And if you were to knock at my door,
It seems to me I wouldn’t even hear.
by Anna Akhmatova
* * *
This morning, between my sixteen month-old and three year-old, I was struggling to stay calm and be simply present in the moment. Today I woke up feeling automatically overwhelmed by the prospect of the day for two main reasons. First, I stayed up too late last night reading a book that would upset me and present me with some information that was difficult to process. (I did not know this when I began reading the book.) And second, the first sound I heard at 6 a.m. was very angry wailing coming from the crib where my sixteen month-old was clearly desperate to be removed from, and all I could think was: I hope Jeff gets up. So then I proceeded to wonder if, already, my child is suffering from gaps in her psyche that will lead to problems later in her adult life as she attempts to fill the voids left by a mother who, on some mornings, could not seem to get out of bed.
Well, this was all very clouded thinking, and thankfully, Jeff did go in to get her. And, moreover, he had gone in when she had woken up earlier at 5:30 a.m. to check her diaper and give her a cup of water, and he said that what I was hearing when I woke up was just her being angry that he had put her back down to try to get her to sleep some more. That made more sense. When she wakes up that early, she basically fusses non-stop, walking around the house making her all-purpose “I want” sound repeatedly, which is something like, “Aa?! Aa?! Aa?!”
Which is exactly how the morning proceeded, until she went down for a nap at 8:00 a.m. And then she did not wake up in a good mood, but kept up with the “Aa”s and sometimes just plopped down on her bottom and cried alligator tears for no apparent reason. And meanwhile, my three year-old was jumping about in an almost too-good mood. And the cool morning air coming in through the window kept getting imperceptibly hotter without my realizing it until I was feeling positively hot and grungy, with a baby attached to me and the attempts to appease her– bread and peanut butter, and a sippy cup now rolled under the table– scattered around me and around the toys that my three year-old had dragged out.
So, Anna Akhmatova, I understand what you are made of. I am also made that way. If left to myself, I could be a very chaotic, alone person. I would sleep when I wanted to sleep and wake up when I wanted to wake up. I would eat when I wanted to, and work when I wanted to, composing something or other, for sure. I would go on walks, and the sound of my own thoughts would get so loud, I might not hear someone knocking at my door, and would certainly have no concept of time.
Instead, I have to accept solitude in doses, and I am very grateful for this situation. “The quiet is cut, occasionally.” That’s true. The noise is cut occasionally, too.
I finally realized this morning, after feeling totally exasperated that I could not seem to appease her with anything, that my sixteen month-old needed to go right back to her crib again, even after a substantial nap this morning. Her nose is runny; she must not be feeling well. And truly, she was so relieved when I made the counter-intuitive decision to put her down and immediately curled up with her blanket and became calm. So, unexpectedly, I get another break to regroup and do something I would like to do or need to do. And my almost-four-year-old is on the playground now, happy in the sunshine and playing with another little girl. I’ve been periodically checking on her from the window in the hallway of our building, which faces the back. But I managed a speedy shower, put on some nice clothes not encrusted with snot and granola bar crumbs, and turned on the air conditioner, and swept the floor all clean and picked up some toys so that I could sit in a room that feels sane and orderly for a little while. I made some earl gray tea and managed to write this blog post. Temporary solitude is refreshing, and lately I feel proud that I have developed the skill of being able to partially find it, partially create it, and partially receive it as if it is simply being given to me. Now I’ll go find something else productive to do before the quiet ends just as abruptly as it began. And if someone were to knock on my door, I feel as if I would hear it.