Academic journal article Field

Eating Stars

Academic journal article Field

Eating Stars

Article excerpt

Nancy Willard gave up full-time teaching (and tenure) at Vassar in 1973 to spend more time with her two-year-old son, and with her writing. First published in FIELD #19, "QuestionsMy SonAskedMe, Answers I Never Gave Him" arrived five years later, presenting her reasons and validating her choice. That which she sacrificed income and status for-time-is present, explicitly and implicitly, throughout the poem. Time is intrinsic to the poem's rhetorical structure, and appears onstage as a subject. Beginning narrowly, with the commencement of time for an individual (gorilla), the poem ends with a figuration of the end of time, per se.

Against this tick-tock backdrop, Willard presents an act of recollection, a pushing back against time. A mother (Willard could be speaking for any parent and child but I'll credit the poem's intimation of autobiography) recalls a series of questions once posed by her son. The questions are those of a youngmind seeking to learn and grasp the world, fresh with innate wonder and a logic not yet prized from imagination. Like verbal pollinators, they fly from point to point, denizens of dreamtime.Willard's real-time answers are not recorded but we can speculate. Efficient, factually-accurate answers from a harried parent would have, in most cases, involved a no: apes do not have birthdays; water was not invented; the moon cannot be Xeroxed; etc.

For a writer as predisposed to affirm and encourage superlunary thinking in children as Willard proved to be, such negation would not have felt sufficient. Something important about the child's questions has gone unanswered; something in them calls for a deeper response, a yes.

But the kind of imaginative responsiveness required to offer a truthful yes to questions like "Can I eat a star?" is not instantly available to the parent anymore; only the child effortlessly inhabits that realm-the child alone can speak its true language. That a stressed parent must (and should), even at the price of significant life-adjustments, work to regain familiarity with the dreamtime is, I believe, the central holding of the poem. Meanwhile the vibrant questions linger, awaiting reciprocally-alive answers that must be searched for and found by the adult in her art.

In the poem, flight is a metaphor for unencumbered fantasy (a word that traces back to "making visible" and that Willard treated with high respect1). …

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