The Poetry of Magic Numbers

juliet

Milestones. Not so much the obvious ones, like births, graduations, marriages, and deaths, but birthdays.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: Not all birthdays are created equal. Logically, we know they are, but humans are anything but logical. Thus the magic of numbers like 12, 16, 21, followed by all birthdays ending in zero (bigger flips of the page, in our illogically logical minds).

Going back in time, we see that many cultures started with or around age 12 for special ceremonies, as this was the age when children became adults. Elaborate rituals, such as Native Americans’ vision quests, were observed to honor the importance of the moment.

In modern day, age 12 seems much too young to be coined an “adult,” especially when you consider the extension of “childhood” to envelop “kids” in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s still living at home with their parents. But tell that to people in Renaissance times as a for instance. Juliet weds Romeo at age 13, after all, and it wasn’t unusual for girls that age to marry and have children, given the brevity of life spans in earlier eras.

But back to the magic of number 12. Today’s poem, Dorianne Laux’s “Girl in the Doorway,” focuses on how a 12-year-old daughter is not the same as an 11-year-old one. Reading it, note how Laux uses imagery, metaphor, hyperbole, alliteration, and symbolism (among other devices) to note subtle and not-so-subtle changes.

 

Girl in the Doorway
Dorianne Laux

She is twelve now, the door to her room
closed, telephone cord trailing the hallway
in tight curls. I stand at the dryer, listening
through the thin wall between us, her voice
rising and falling as she describes her new life.
Static flies in brief blue stars from her socks,
her hairbrush in the morning. Her silver braces
shine inside the velvet case of her mouth.
Her grades rise and fall, her friends call
or they don’t, her dog chews her new shoes
to a canvas pulp. Some days she opens her door
and musk rises from the long crease in her bed,
fills the dim hall. She grabs a denim coat
and drags the floor. Dust swirls in gold eddies
behind her. She walks through the house, a goddess,
each window pulsing with summer. Outside,
the boys wait for her teeth to straighten.
They have a vibrant patience.
When she steps onto the front porch, sun shimmies
through the tips of her hair, the V of her legs,
fans out like wings under her arms
as she raises them and waves. Goodbye, Goodbye.
Then she turns to go, folds up
all that light in her arms like a blanket
and takes it with her.

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