Thursday, April 21, 2016

Zoe vs. The "Urban" Wasteland

April is National Poetry Month. And "April" appears in one of the most famous opening lines from a poem---"The Wasteland" by T. S. Eliot. I thought of titling this post "Zoe vs. T. S. Eliot," continuing my proud tradition of Headlines Least Likely to Grab the Casual Reader. But then I thought, What does a five-year-old girl from Brooklyn have in common with a modernist poet from the twentieth century?
It turns out, one main thing:
Like T. S. Eliot, Zoe eschews rhyme for obscure allusions that are either nonsense or so esoteric that they're beyond understanding.
Secondarily, there have been accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against her.
By me.
So, when I went to the park with Zoe the other day, to prevent my mind from going completely numb, I started rewriting "The Wasteland." Something about a playground in Brooklyn---on a spring day teeming with crowds of riotous children, on a winter night abandoned and empty---seemed rife for lampooning in a parody of "The Wasteland," an epic poem concerning death and destruction and a world devolving into chaos.
The day we were there the park was crowded, and there were some older kids, led by one girl in particular who was ordering the others around. A Zoe from the future. I didn't hear her name, but let's just call her April. . . .

The (Urban) Wasteland
Part I. The Burial of the Mother
April is the cruelest child, leading
other kids through zero-sum games, mixing
frustration and desire, stirring
fresh wounds with old pain.
Mothers gab on benches, covering
forgetful children in hoodies, feeding
toddlers cheddar goldfish.
Connor surprised us, coming backwards down the slide,
with a shower of pee; we stopped a few feet away
And went on in dryness; it was time for the swings.
Then to drink juice, and talk for an hour.
"My eyes shoot laser beams. I'm Queen Elsa. And I'm from outer space."
Remember in winter, the hills in snow
I went down on the biggest sled.
I was scared but said I wasn't. Mom said, Hold on. And down we went.
In the park, where I feel free
After, I'll be tired, but I'll keep Mom up most of the night and go to bed late.

What kind of tree is this? Can I play with this 
dangerous-looking branch? Child of mine,
One, I don't know, and, two, put it down,
you'll knock out your eye. I need some shade,
I burn so easily, and here, I need to put sunscreen on your face.
Hurry up, please, it's time.
Mommy, can I show you something?
Look at the worms under this rock. This one's dead.
Come, look, here's something else equally disgusting
I will show you fear in a handful of whatever a five-year-old can put in her hand.
Garbled speech in another language.
That's not any one I know.
Mommy, what am I? Half Italian and half Irish.
No! I'm not. I'm Spanish!
Bow nas, diaz! Uno! Quatro! Adios, abuela!

Part II. A Game of Hopscotch
I can't sleep tonight. Can you sleep with me?
No, on second thought, I want to sleep in your bed.
Taking up most of it.
Why did Daddy move to my bed?
I had a dream.
We were all in bed together.
You liked it.
What shall we do tomorrow?
How about the day after that? Can I skip school?
Is it time to get up yet?
Hurry up, please, it's time.
Ah, the violet hour, when the child gets everyone up, claiming she's hungry
But refuses to eat breakfast.

Part III. Death by Talking
Gives no quarter, does my daughter
I'd really like a scotch and water.

Part IV. What the Five-Year-Old Said
Who is this other grandpa you keep referring to?
Last I checked, there were only two I know of.
There he is, mother, he lives in that tree. And in that house.
And some other place I went to when I was two.
You weren't there. (Seems unlikely.)
There is always another grandpa walking beside us.
Only I can see him. He's very small.
Is he standing next to you right now?
Nothing again nothing.
What is that noise you're making now?
What infernal lamentation?
I looked at it, it's just a tiny cut. And, I told you, I don't have any Band-aids.
Who are those hordes in hoodies swarming
Over endless playground equipment, riding scooters over cracked rubber mats
Ringed by baseball diamonds and porta-johns?
What is the land across the river?
Staten Island, then New Jersey. Further north is Manhattan.
Where my grandpa lives
She says without smiling.

The girl hands me her ponytail holder, hair loose and tangled
Is that a twig in her hair?
Then spoke the five-year-old.
What had I promised? Dammit.
Three episodes of Paw Patrol before bed?
Damn. Dammit. Blood surges through my heart.
The awful price of a moment's surrender
Which an age of vigilance can never retract.
By TV, and TV only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our Facebook updates
Or on Twitter heralded by an insidious bird
Or on Tumblr, or Instagram.
Or our abandoned MySpace profiles.

I have heard the incessant whining.
Is it possible to say no once and once only?
She thinks of Band-aids, each a negligible boo-boo
Thinking of the Band-aids, each confirms a bloody gaping wound.
Hurry up, please, it's time.

I sat upon the bench
Ignored. Phone in hand, children screaming around me.
Shall I at least write my grocery list? Dare I buy her a peach?
She's not going to eat it, I just know.

Child, we are going home, going home, going home.

Let's go home to Daddy.
"Dada. Dadyata. Daddy Daddy Fofaddy." (She's gone mad again.)
"Shantih shantih shama lama ding dong."
What does that mean? I ask.
"The peace which passeth understanding. Geez, Mommy,
I thought you studied this stuff in school."

Zoe: 132; Universe: 0

 For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a blog post.
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