OPP #5: Sally Rosen Kindred

I had run across poems by Sally Rosen Kindred online in the past – the wonderful poem “My Son Asks” in Linebreak has long been a favorite – but when I first saw her series of poems inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in diode, I was hooked. These poems are now a brilliant chapbook from Hyacinth Girl Press (reviewed here in an earlier post). For today’s post, I give you one of my favorite poems in the collection.

Tinker Bell Thinks About What She Wants

To this Tink replied in these words, ‘you silly ass,’ and disappeared into the bathroom.  “She is quite a common fairy,” Peter explained apologetically, “she is called Tinker Bell because she mends the pots and kettles.”  —J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy

Tink. Tink.  Makes me sick, the lick
of their soft calls, this flighty work:

dust won’t take the dents
from these pots, won’t unwarp the kettle.

I want impact, the magic of my fists
fixing metal through their brute launch.

Wish I’d had the luck to gulp a clock—
to have a life divided by firm ticking

from a heavy center.  Instead Tink, Tink
coming always from the outside, feather-

feeble, the brush of words from boys
who’ll never want more than a mother.

Instead I’m steam—Goddamn—desire like waters
thinning to the ends of me and lifting

me unwilling from the earth
each time I see him. Peter,

pull me down. I want you
but wish I did not need your hands

to do my dirt work, your heavy heat to solder
or your pretty mouth to

tell me over, make me more
than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.

Kiss me kettle-hard: yank
my sorry ass from Never.

Somewhere I’m skin without wings.
Somewhere my name means tough as light.

*

The use of persona in such an unexpected way is one of my favorite parts of this poem, but I want to focus on the sounds. I could read this poem aloud over and over and never grow tired of the sounds. The hard “k” sounds in the poem are perfectly tuned to the metallic anger of the tinker fairy, and yet despite its hard consonants, there is a soft heart to the poem. Phrases like “feather-feeble” and “heavy heat” give this Tinkerbell both a hard core and a soft desire.

Find more of the Peter Pan poems here at diodeBetter yet, pick up the beautiful chapbook from Hyacinth Girl Press.

 

If you want to write:

1. Choose a character famous in children’s literature and give that character a voice that has NOT been heard before.

2. Experiment with sound as it relates to the occupation of your speaker. What sounds would be right for a poem about a mechanic? A pilot? A plumber? A farmer?

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press) could be seen as just a book of persona poems based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. However, the more time I spend with the chapbook, the more I see that this is a book about desire, about the dark sides of fancy and childhood, about how little parents can really do for their children and how much. It is about claiming who you are as opposed to who others want you to be. It is about how nothing – not even the things that are supposed to – will last.

The collection begins with “Tinkerbell Thinks About What She Wants” (full text here in diode), one of my favorites in the collection.  After the beginning with a Barrie epigraph that explains Tinkerbell’s common position as a mender of pots and kettles, the dismissive short i sounds in the first lines make clear what the fairy thinks of her position and her name –

“Tink. Tink. Makes me sick, the lick

of their soft calls, this flighty work:”

Toward the end of the poem, she expresses her desire for Peter, wishes she didn’t need his “pretty mouth to/tell me over, make me more/than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.” But the highlight is the ending, full of the spunk and fury we expect from Tinkerbell, but in a much more mature way:

“Kiss me kettle-hard: yank

 my sorry ass from Never.

Somewhere I’m skin without wings.

Somewhere my name means tough as light.

Several of the poems in the collection deal with the issue of mothering – Wendy as mother to the Lost Boys, Wendy’s mother, Peter’s mother, and the mothers who now share this story with their own children. The descriptions of mothers are sometimes longed-for, barely-remembered ideals:

“and the warm wind of her moving in

off the edge of the bed, to hover

by cool sheets and bring her hands

down on your face

like rain? We were safe there,”

            from “What Wendy Darling Tells Her Brother”

and sometimes tinged with a hint of menace or sadness:

“This is having a mother:

being drawn down, filled

with the amber breath

of clarinets, promises warm

as their terrible weight.”

            from “Peter Dreams – “

In “Wendy Darling Remembers Falling” (full text here at diode), the memory of the mother is far from idealized, making the mother almost ineffectual. As Wendy recalls falling down slate stairs, she also recalls her mother’s hands, desiring

“the leather of her warm fingers in my hair,

even the smooth-glass drag of her ring.”

What she gets is quite different:

“because all her hands had done

was find her lips

and rest against them

as I slapped and slid my hard way

to her shoes: their refusal,

that alien brown shine.”

Kindred gives voice not only to Tinkerbell, Peter, and Wendy, but also to a lost boy tasked with Tinkerbell’s autopsy and to Tiger Lily, whose character actually has a voice in these poems as opposed to in the story. But two of my favorite poems in the collection are not character poems at all. They are poems that use the story – the reading of it to children and the world it creates – as commentary about parenting.

In “One Ending,” the speaker reflects on how stories (both written and lived) can always have different endings. In an epigraph from Peter Pan, Kindred shows how the lost boys stand chastened in front of Mrs. Darling, hoping that she will have them. The speaker, reading to her son, reflects:

“The boy in my lap

who holds my thumb to the page

is called adopted, too. Have his hands

been on that island?”

The boy tells her he can remember a time before she was his mother, a time of mushrooms, flags, and red tigers. When he wakes later to a nightmare, she comforts him:

“holding him warm to my skin,

and tell him hard that he’s home.”

But we don’t end so easily –the next lines bring back the uncertainty and menace of mothering:

“That’s one ending.

There’s always another one,

with tigers red

as mouths, their soft paws smearing

the sides of the house

that is his sleeping body…”

And in “To Mothers Reading Peter Pan,” the speaker asks mothers if they will be able to read the story:

“knowing no children live on this island

without wishing their mothers cold

knowing the waters are filled with fathers

who swam for home but missed the reedy shore

and may appear

only as the bitter ends

of pirates sharpened by sons

into tools

silver and weak.”

These lines to me are the heart of the collection. Children do make their parents into villains, and parents do fail in their children’s eyes. This poem for me questions how we make our children aware of the freedoms they have in the world and prepare to let them go while still keeping them safe:

“Can you wake

can you tell

so someday he’ll be free of you

as the spiders beneath this house

who weave their own names

from the silk of the island’s storms

coming in off your lips

Will you tell

Will you tell

Will your words help

him make land”

This will be a collection I will read over and over and over again. Its layers are worth exploring, and its language is cohesive and surprising. Get one for yourself and see – you will not be disappointed. You might even learn to fly.