Radishes

April is National Poetry Month.

When my children were younger, I went through a phase where I tried to get them to appreciate poetry by reading it to them at the dinner table. They were, at the time, the opposite of appreciative. It’s not that we didn’t read at the table — my husband had moved bedtime stories to dinnertime as their tastes went from Richard Scarry to “Lord of the Rings.” But they wanted stories, not poems. And especially not the poem that I tried to make them love.

I had chosen a Japanese poem, “The Man Pulling Radishes,” by Kobayashi Issa, who lived around the time America was founded. It’s a simple poem, not even a haiku (at least in English), but it encompasses so much. The translator, Robert Hass, is still alive, and I don’t know enough about copyright law to know if I can post his translation here, but it’s absolutely beautiful. Here’s a link.

I love the poem because in three short lines, Issa (and Hass) accomplish and teach so much:

– The man pulling radishes had nothing to use but the radish, but
– the man seeking his way didn’t know where he should go, but the man pulling radishes did, and yet
– the seeker will continue on his way, and the man with the radishes will keep pulling radishes.
– Sometimes all you have is a radish. God will make it enough.
– Even though all someone has to point the way is a radish, it’s enough to get you started.

Radishes are easy to plant, and are one of the first things to come up. And so this might set the time of the encounter for us — early Spring, and the seeker is out seeking, and the man who planted the radishes is harvesting them. Each of us has a task.

My children’s reaction, though, was horror at the idea of me reading poetry every night during great story time, followed by derision of the poem for its brevity and content. Radishes became a running joke. When they encountered a bad poem at school, they’d shake their heads and say something about it being worse than radishes. When my mother-in-law gifted me with a GPS, a glorious day for everyone I’ve ever driven anyplace, they joked that now I don’t have to ask men pulling radishes. Whenever I served radishes, they quoted the poem, and rolled their eyes. They brought me radishes on a plate when a poem I was working on was not going well. And when they learned that a place called “Radish Magazine” reprinted my Guy Soup recipe but that I had signed away the right to a reprint fee from the place it was first published, their laughter was complete. Mom and her radishes. The irony was that yes, I had been trying to point the way with the radish poem. Instead, I was afraid that I had ruined poetry — and radishes — for them forever.

But then something amazing happened. Their adolescence (April, 1999 – June 2014) ended, and they became lovely adults, some of whom appreciate poetry. And my adult daughter chose this very poem to post on her Facebook page for National Poetry Month. “Today’s poem is beautiful both in its simplicity and in all the years of solid joke material it’s brought us since its Lardas Family debut. This one’s for you, mom!”

Well.

Plant those seeds, whether radishes or love of poetry. When you harvest them, you can point somebody’s way.

 

Playing with the Numbers

Playing with the Numbers

If a woman is all the people she ever was
(and those she still may be),
for this birthday, I will
bring us all to the table.

I will be fifty-four one year-olds,
gnawing on anything they come across.
I will be twenty-seven two year-olds,
each of them shouting “No!”
I will be eighteen adorable three year-olds, tilting my head,
resting it on your knee,
and assuring you that I love you
and Jesus.
But I will also be two cliques,
one of nine noisy six year-olds and another
of six judgmental nine year-olds,
each group casting shade upon the other.
I promise to be three adults,
just barely,
of eighteen,
and I will be two angst ridden twenty-seven year-olds,
wondering why they are here,
if this is where God wants them,
and what they should really be doing.
And one fifty-four year-old will preside,
wondering how all these people ever got here.

It will take all of us to blow out the candles.
We will stare at the rising smoke,
and search it for patterns,
and wonder if it is bad for our lungs, as,
having had our cake,
we are ready
to eat it.

©Ann McLellan Lardas
February 14, 2017

“Forty-Seven Up”

This is my most recently published poem. I wrote it when my younger brother was about to become older than our older brother was when he died.  I was pleased to find “Survivor’s Review,” which features work by authors I admire, like Louise DeSalvo. I made some changes based on comments by peers in Baron Wormser’s poetry workshop that I attended through Fairfield University’s MFA program, and other changes at the suggestion of “Survivor’s Review” editor Sheree Kirby. I had liked the piece when I first wrote it, but I think the changes made it better.

Photo credit: Ann McLelllan Lardas