Dear Little Fish

Dear Little Fish is a letter/prose poem that I wrote to my unborn son. He was six months along and at the time I had no idea that he was a boy or that he had Down Syndrome. This piece has become my heart song to him and honestly, I had no idea how prophetic the piece would be. Somehow I knew (before I knew), that he would have a vulnerability that would break me wide open. I imagine that you can relate.

Dear Little Fish,

There are a myriad of names I could call you—Little Papaya, minor Oblongata and Action Hero being the most current endearments—but of late you’ve felt so very aquatic and I the aquarium, that it seems inevitable that I revert to the watery, the oceanic.

Let me introduce myself. We are, of course, well acquainted in the most primal of arrangements, but if I’m to understand your orientation correctly I am, at present, merely the invisible water in which you swim. I am the alpha to your omega, the Escher staircase to your stair. I am the mystic flute that you hear but you don’t yet know that the flute has a player. Or that she has a name.

So, a formal introduction: Hello, Little Fish. I’m your mother I am She of the Rubber Room. That’s right, the one you’ve been playing tennis against. I am the deep bass wall that resonates with every thwack and swing of your racket. And let me say, you’re quite the player – merciless – you’d have that gussied, white-trousered Wimbledon crowd on their feet, pulling their hair out like flowers and throwing the strands at your feet.

Social Justice and the Benzodiazepine Death Camp

In May of 2008, I sat in a Boston hotel room, lounging on my King sized bed with its navy blue, pinstriped duvet. A bright red chair sat near the window. Everything was neat and clean and there was an unbelievable expanse of floor. I was eight months pregnant with my first child and I was at the Neiman Conference on Narrative Journalism. The world felt alive and bright and full of possibility. I was in heaven.

That first morning, I walked to what looked like a mile-long conference room. Anne Hull and Dana Priest, journalists from the Washington Post, were giving a talk about how they broke the story on the horrid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I don’t know if you remember the stories, but Hull and Priest received a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the unjust treatment of wounded Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. The men, she said were “afloat on a river of painkillers and antipsychotic drugs.” Each morning, they were expected to rise at dawn for formation, though most of them were snowed under by benzodiazepines, opiates, alcohol ndash; anything that would push Iraq and the pain away. The work of these journalists evoked a national outcry. Light was shed and reforms were made.

My Differently Abled Son

Six years ago my son was born with Down Syndrome. And while parenting has its own set of life lessons, my son’s particular genetic roll of the dice has changed my vision of what it means to be a good and kind human.

Prior to Cassius entering my world, I was a writer living an artistic lifestyle:
I went to art galleries.
I had swanky dinner parties.
I wrote about Russian nanotechnologists and my own poetic melancholies.
I worried about how my jeans fit and how I looked in the world.

Beautifully Awkward 1

My Dear and Esteemed Readers:

I want to introduce myself by saying a few things for the record that will, hopefully give you a sense of who I am and why I’ve started the Beautifully Awkward Project.

For those who don’t know me, I’ll start with the fact that I’m a blond, white woman. I have two young children, one of whom has an extra 21st chromosome. My young children are also blonde. You should know that I live in Utah but that no, I am not a Mormon. There’s much to say on that subject, but not today.

Beautifully Awkward 2

There are times in life when it’s a beautiful thing to be quiet in conversation.

This is what I thought last night, as I approached a room where the mean age hovered around seventy. I’d been invited to a discussion group, mixed men and women, where a subject was proposed and then discussed with relative vigor. I was the pup.

I expected economics, Medicare or the political situation in Syria. I expected a subject with imposing intellectual heft. And, as one who has absolute reverence for those who’ve been around longer than me, I planned on keeping my mouth shut.

Beautifully Awkward 3

When I hatched the Beautifully Awkward Project, I knew that I was going to push myself out of my comfort zone. I knew that it would likely involve sending poems out instead of just writing them. It would involve saying what I felt instead of saying what was easy. And it would undoubtedly, without question, involve singing. The whole idea, brought forth out of no duress or excess of alcohol, was to step intentionally outside my zones of comfort and let my ego struggle a bit. It’s what the ego does. And then I’d redirect my question. Instead of stroking my ego’s head or calming it by retreating to what was known, I’d ask the simple question: What can I offer?

It seemed so easy in theory.

The heart part of me challenged the head part of me.
“Get out of the way,” the heart said with bravado. “I got this.”

The Alchemy of Rumcake

It starts like this – there is no other way. You must begin
with a pound of sweet cream butter. That’s sweet
cream. Forget the salt. It will pull moisture from the cake.
Keep the butter warm. Breathe on it if necessary.
Tuck it to the base of your spine, let it mold to your hips.
This makes for a good cake.

Blend pure cane sugar and nothing else
into the butter. Do not fear the butter’s fragility;
It needs, demands perhaps, to be whipped.
Add eggs, one at a time. Be gentle –
Introductions can be intoxicating.
The eggsbuttersugar will swell, nearly doubling
in volume. Do not rush them. Remember your own
shyness. Remember your initial slowness when slick
against the body of another. Let them find their way.

Yellow Chicken is an Act of Love

It’s in the small acts that we show our love.
The rice soaked,
then washed over and again,
as one would wash the feet of a child.

It’s in the grains counted
by that child, each one a perfect
finger between two larger fingers–
each one sacred as a poem
brought to the mouth.

It’s here that we say love–
in steam and water,
in salt and fingers of rice.


In the end, despite the months of physical and occupational therapy,
the question is always the same:
How retarded exactly is our son?
Because despite his fine motor skills
and his skilled repetition of pearled consonants,
there are those moments when he leans down
and tongues my husband’s knee
or sits up in shivering reverie
at the inflamed air, as if its very emptiness
was cause for wondrous, wide-eyed alarm.

And it pains me to say this even here,
to lay the word down like a skinned animal,
because the question itself holds its own betrayal,
as if through the very act of asking, I am confessing
a point at which I might not love him.

As if this were even possible.

Mint Leaf for David Foster Wallace

Often there are times when I am staring off
into the skim line of horizon, where the soft peach
of sky folds into the earth’s body,
and I find myself comparing my son
to David Foster Wallace.

I remember reading about Mr. Wallace’s suicide,
about his parents knowing that there was something wrong
with their bright boy, about his starry rise
amongst the intellectual literati
and his depression so debilitating that, like Kafka,
the disease that tormented was life itself.

And I couldn’t help feeling sad that in my love
of Wallace’s brilliant articulations,
and my appreciation for his infinite, witty jests
I too had jumped up to clap my soft hands,
and did not see his overwhelming sadness.