Our new series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem from Brenda Shaughnessy’s fifth book, The Octopus Museum. Stacked with dexterous, inventive pieces that range from prose poetry to letters to dialogues, Shaughnessy also nestles heartfelt poems about the narrator’s children. One of these such poems, “Blueberries for Cal,” is gorgeous, controlled, and complex. When the narrator says “Sometimes I can’t bear // all the things Cal doesn’t get to do,” the stanza break does real work; this is both lamentation and confession. One of the finest poems you’ll read on the sacred strain of parenting, on the force of love.
“Blueberries for Cal”
Watching little Henry, six, scoop up blueberries
and shovel them into his mouth, possessed.
I’m so glad I brought blueberries—wish my kids
could/would eat them. Cal can’t; Simone won’t.
Henry’s sisters Lucy & Jane took turns feeding each
other goldfish crackers and sips of juice.
Arms around each other’s neck and back. Tiny things.
I wish my daughter had a sister like that
and my son a nervous system that let him walk
and munch berries. Sometimes I can’t bear
all the things Cal doesn’t get to do. I want to curse
everything I can’t give him.
Admire/compare/despair—that’s not the most real
feeling I’m feeling, is it? I feel joy in Henry’s joy.
Blueberries for the child who wants them.
There’s all this energetic sweetness, enough to go around,
to give and taste and trust. More than enough.
For Cal, too. I want to remember this.
My children seem to subsist on music and frosting.
Where there’s frosting, there’s cake.
Where there’s music, someone chose to make a song
over all other things on this earth.
Excerpted from The Octopus Museum. Copyright © 2019 by Brenda Shaughnessy. All rights reserved. First appeared in The Paris Review, issue 223. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.