To My Daughter, In the Present

If I were to tell you just one thing
              in between the waves of pandemic

                                          I would tell you “sand, political T-shirt, words born

of Holocaust and poverty, whole wheat scones”

If I could tell you many, many things, I wouldn’t
                   because your hair feels soft in my palm

I’m angry at everyone, but work
                                              to stabilize their homes

to keep the fairy tale winds and wolves
sipping tea at the hearth

trading jokes about the stock market
              while three pigs reinforce with straw

when what we really need is no more
or winds 
or wolves

or for straw to be enough

That would be the best way to tell you about the delays
              and the barricades and the

lack of everything we need at the exact time
we need it     

                                  Better than telling you about mermaids
                                              without the voices they traded for legs

Or else that would be the best way
                            of all the best ways
                                        because I want you to learn a woodpecker pecks
                                                                    a shoe makes a bad house

and Jack is nimblest when he avoids the burn

Click here to read Dawn Tefft on the origin of the poem.


Image: “Fairy Tale Illustration by Adrienne Segur” by Karen, licensed under CC 2.0.

Dawn Tefft: I wrote a poem/letter to my toddler daughter about our current moment. I wanted future her to know something of the beauty of quarantine as well as the horrors of the pandemic that led to it. But it was also a meditation on the larger political context as well as the never ending need to organize for justice. Organizing is a beautiful process fraught with obstacles and dangers. Fairy tales seemed like the perfect aesthetic/content to weave in, as they deal with beauty, obstacles and danger. Also, aren’t fairy tales where we all first learn poetry and lyricism? I workshopped this poem with my informal writing group. They helped me make the decision to excise a couple lines and adjust phrasing a little in a place or two. I like sharing work and getting feedback, not just to make the poem stronger, but because I like when others engage with my work, I like seeing their emotions, their thoughts, their questions. Why write, except to challenge yourself as well as others? To create something that is hopefully neither too opaque nor too transparent, something both writer and reader can grapple with in ways that are generative.

Dawn Tefft
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