recess radio program

05/23/06
Of Typewriters and Poems
    by Lola Haskins

When our daughter D'Arcy was little, we lived in a rented stone cottage in an English village. Every day while she was at school, I used to commune in the attic with my trusty Underwood. There were a couple of things about that Underwood that had taken getting used to. One was that, unless you hit the keys with authority, they tended to stop short of the paper. The other was that, like all Underwoods, mine wouldn't be rushed. If I typed faster than it preferred, the keys would run into each other and I'd have to untangle them before I went on. Those were the days too, when making a mistake called for one of those erasers that looked like crested seahorses, which when you inserted them between two letters to rub out the middle one, often erased not just the offending letter but the paper it was written on. In spite of such technical problems, I stayed loyal to Underwoods until my last one broke in two when it got accidentally dropped. I wanted another but couldn't find one, so I went on to Olivettis (no substance), then Selectrics (too commercial, I felt like a legal secretary), then finally, after a battle with my anti-screen bias, to computers. Meanwhile, back in England, D'Arcy came in one afternoon and chirped, "Mummy, could I have some water?" Once I'd recovered from the disconnect at hearing my flesh and blood speaking a foreign language, I fetched her her cup and I sat her in my lap and told her the two poems that I, suffused with young motherhood, had written for her that morning, and her response to those made me wrote her one more. And look, here they come now:

Your mouth is round as the moon is round,
an o of wonder at the yellow thing in the sky,
so close it looks as if we could touch it tonight.
Would you like it to be your boat? I could
give it to you for your bath,and you could
pull it through the dark water on a string.
Moon, you say. Moon, Mama. Your mouth is round,
and your eyes are big,
as big as this nighttime sky.
Small child, asleep on your side with your thumb
at your mouth,I will give you the greatest gift of all.
I will give you words.
I will bring you As and Bs and Cs, everything
you need. I will help you trace their outlines,
feel their bodies' shapes,
and know them when they call. I will teach you
how letters blend. It is so beautiful, just like
a kaleidoscope.
But words are even nicer than kaleidoscopes.
You can keep them. You can call me saying
See Mama, see? And I will write them down for you.
And they will be yours, for always.

At which, D'Arcy scrambled off my lap, and here's the final poem: When I told you I wrote two poems for you today, you said, pleased, TWO POEMS! and looked in the cupboard. And there, somewhere among the Horlicks and the malted shreddies, I think you found them.

Copyright 2006 Lola Haskins

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."