Family. Talk about a feel-good word with positive connotations. But we all know that in actuality it can be complex. One fraught with both wonder and woe.
There’s one thing we as writers can agree on, however: Writing about family brings a built-in audience. As readers, we’re all in this together because we’re all experts in the sub-categories of fathers and mothers, grands and once-removed’s, siblings and cousins.
The poet Jim Daniels is especially adept at mining the concept. Down he goes, spelunking into the abstract and climbing out with the concrete. Like any miner, time and patience afford him the luxury of small finds — ones that add up, ones that flesh out a poem and speak to the secrets of family hiding in the wide open.
Here he takes a minor moment — the quiet time most any parent can identify with — and makes it wistful. True, “wistful” can be dangerous (it borders “sentimental,” after all), but done right, it can be effective. See what you think in this poem about bedtime reading to your kids:
Talking About the Day
Each night after reading three books to my two children—
we each picked one—to unwind them into dreamland,
I’d turn off the light and sit between their beds
in the wide junk shop rocker I’d reupholstered blue,
still feeling the close-reading warmth of their bodies beside me,
and ask them to talk about the day—we did this,
we did that, sometimes leading somewhere, sometimes
not, but always ending up at the happy ending of now.
Now, in still darkness, listening to their breath slow and ease
into sleep’s regular rhythm.
They are grown, you might’ve guessed.
The past tense solid, unyielding, against the dropped bombs
of recent years. But how it calmed us then, rewinding
the gentle loop, and in the trusting darkness, pressing play.