A Poem by Carmen Giménez Smith

Ravers Having Babies

I tried to make my babies fall in love with
the surrealists but they only want the acid pastels
of the graphic age so the aesthetic pleasuredome
I had planned for them when
I was just an immigrant’s daughter corralling future
reinvention from every TV set is dead
long live my bohemian fantasy of children lolling
over Proust in hammocks they wove themselves

I’ll try to let their freak flags fly unencumbered
by my own fantastical wants and gather their texts
in my own pronounce their slang
with the accent of a foreigner
to remind them of their source material

We’re at the place where I’m a social hazard
because of everyone suddenly seeing them
thru me I’m still their psychic umbilicus
their status perpetually in flux
Each depiction and turn of a phrase
is under scrutiny and I’m hopelessly set
which means I puzzle I perplex I embarrass
and everyone sees

I’ve always hated inspection myself
And their personalities are starting to be
unchanging like a tattoo and
I remember what that was to feel
doomed in the boundary of self
alongside the crucible of being almost adult
how little mercy lies ahead

My adolescence floats between us too
and that’s the most terrifying specter
that they’ll become the worst of me
I was a frantic and edgy teen
who constructed so many urgencies
so many darknesses and revenge fantasies

like the fantasy of being left alone
the only girl in the world only to set it right
Deep in her own grief my mother cured
me with bowls of rice shiny with butter
or shopping sprees for things
we couldn’t afford
I wish I had known the story of her pain
as it was she stood unflinching
against all the blows
life threw at her and maybe that made me more brave
but it certainly made me afraid of feeling
worn down of showing pain
for fear of infecting my kids with my past

Now I’m trying to undo that story which
is what parents are not supposed to do
make what we lacked their supposed gift
because it creates new lacks so I’m aware
of how I could do better though
I haven’t worked it all out
I’m sure there will be pain

Some nights left alone in dreams
that complicate their mortality with the anxieties
that become plagues later my children wander
into my bed for harbor and I inhale them
in old school want and recall
a more desperate version of myself in love
That woman was all in all hunger
and wanted everything immediately
and without question I wonder where she is now
what quadrant her embargo

I’m only this now! This cavalcade
of brokenness I say flexing my body in the mirror
Saggy tits is the real story and if only I had known
that it would be what arriving was

All this life later through therapy and letting go
and also doing some broken things just
unabashed failure really and missteps finally
I learned that I only ever wanted the long devotion
of family Oh terrible childhood
what tatters you made of me
though you made me a watcher too a scrappy
thing but the breaks are there and vibrate easily
and make me do stupid things I’ll never regret
In seeking love I thought little
of outcome only the reaping I would do
The open windows closed the new solutions
I wish we were layers we could unfurl
as object lesson maybe that’s what a poem is
a flayed skin I can turn into a map

Still broken I have worked hard
so the one thing my children
will remember is that my love felt animal
and even felt pure as light
sometimes complicated and afraid
but throughout their lives there was a thread
pulsing with a light they could call my love
Disparate wants and strangers connected
by blood that’s me now and I’ll take it

Life rollicks past you and its futility
becomes the most apt ontology
despite all I try to do to give it meaning
to assuage the vibration of language in me
still trying to make a story for myself
since my other devotion is the word
and song keeps me fixed to the page
which is the subterranean impulse rippling
through our house pulling me from
the communion of family

During the second pregnancy
I went into what they called false
labor exploding supernova
of urgency that became my only
type of consciousness
the masochist psychonaut I was
but it wasn’t time not for two weeks
though I felt my child becoming
an insistent storm
someone like the now-girl in the room
down the hall and then I felt it when it
would really happen a pull different
than before an awareness of a real
beginning to labor
and to the relationship we would have
and there was an ending because life

would always be linked to death
That was the last time I was certain
must be why I’m recalling it
certain of what I needed to do to retain them
That must have been what love ended up being
in the long run in order for me to use it

Every night while my babies sleep
I’m furled into a ball softened by sugar and weed
trying to solve all our problems with dread until morning
when my babies tarry with TV and time shortens
our telomeres without mercy

My kids are just figuring out they pinned their fortunes
to someone who’s a little messy a little loud
someone who isn’t going to be a rock but more
of a sloop made of mahogany bobbing in the water
They’re coming to terms with my fallibility
I’ll die before identifying a single birdsong in my life
I didn’t make them organic or French yet
I think it’s too late but we’ll live

Ravers having babies was what Jack said
when I told him I was pregnant and
he was only telling me the truth of my life
the way a friend who has walked alongside
your life without judgment tells you the truth
of your life whether I liked it or not children
would change my life is also what he was saying
we were marching in beginning and ending

And now like me my babies turn words
over with native wonder
So much to do so little skin left for transformation
To them the imaginary is still marvel
though each minute inverts them away from me


Carmen Giménez Smith is poetry editor (with Steph Burt) at The Nation and publisher of Noemi Press. She is the author of six collections of poems including Cruel Futures (City Lights, 2018) and Be Recorder (Graywolf Press, 2019). She is a Professor of English at Virginia Tech. 

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.