Reading the Calm in the Morning (Maggie Smith, “Weep Up”)

Though for most of my life I was a night owl, since I became a parent, I have had to get up earlier and earlier to sneak more productive hours into the day. Mornings are sacred times. Not just for prayer but for a rich stillness that inspires. Even if you stare at your phone or linger in your inbox too long, it hardly matters at 5am: few people are up early enough to cause trouble.

When I think of this time of day, I think of the opening poem in Maggie Smith’s knockout collection last year Good Bones. The poem, entitled “Weep Up” begins:

“It’s only technically morning. Not even the birds believe it.”

The poet finds herself woken up even earlier than the birds, who, if we take Emily Dickinson as an authority, wake up at four, as she expresses in one of her most famous poems:

“The birds begun at four o’clock

–Their period for Dawn”

The poet’s daughter is trying to wake up the birds, but cries out “weep up” instead of “wake up”:

“From her crib, my daughter tries to wake them, saying weep for wake”

Your child waking you up very early is particularly jarring, not just because your sleep is disturbed and you are filled with the choice of trying to get the child back to sleep or surrendering to a very early morning (though all of that is hard). It’s jarring because you are, in that moment, fully aware that you are a parent and doing the same things that your parents and their parents did. Parenting is not the ad hoc, artisanal affair we can sometimes try to make it, it is a pattern, a job, a label that floats above us. Smith expresses this brilliantly:

“…Rising, spellbound in the blurry dawn, I become my mother.

Twentieth-century sunrise was just like this–sad, soft-focus

ocher like an overexposed Polaroid.”

Early mornings with our children are a time to enter into the stillness of the usually frantic job of parenting. To be tired, to be foggy-headed, to be upset there is not more rest to be had in the world, but to get up and fulfill the task and echo what those before us had to do.

In times like these, when the decency of our society is being tested, we may need the stillness of the morning even more, to reflect, to re-energize, and to think our way back into our selves. We know how important it is to be #woke, to be aware of the injustices around us, but we may, with Smith’s poem as a guide, also have to learn how to be #wept, to linger with our grief and sadness, and follow the command of Smith’s daughter in the poem and “weep up.”

 

 

 

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