Tribute to a Poet, with Athletic Dedication
Leslie Heywood has lived a life of wildly disparate forms of excellence. A nationally ranked runner in high school and college, she has kept up the role of a true scholar athlete by continuing her athletic pursuits while becoming a widely published poet, memoirist, and Literary theorist as well as a distinguished professor. She was a student of Derrida’s and Heywood also has a rock band named for her, two daughters, two large Akitas, and has recently recast herself as one of the pioneers in the melding of evolutionary sciences with the literary arts. I rest my case.
Her latest poems weave the rich complexities of family life around deep concerns for our ecological uncertainties. They are lyrical narratives, composed with a strong and rigorous sense of place. Uncertainty and complexity underscore all of Heywood’s triumphs, yet she exhibits in the poem I have included for this post a love and an honesty of perception as tenacious as her training regimen (and, believe me, tenacity in terms of her training regimen is a weak word). I want to add that Leslie Heywood is also known for her keen fashion sense and her ability to beat most mortals at arm wrestling. .
The Bonds of Words
The summer before second grade
My daughter begins to catch up with
Herself, her fingers that couldn’t
Direct a pen find some hidden
Connection like the knobs
Along her spine and suddenly
That long sweep from z’s to e’s
Makes sense, the pen in her fingers
Obeying at long last the dictates
Of her brain, the neat curves of
q’s and p’s. The doubt that had
Shadowed the gleam in her eyes
Falls away, along with the terror
Of swimming, the requests she
Submerge her head. I did it,
She tells me, her voice fierce, I’m just
As good as Keene, her little sister,
For whom these mechanical matters
Of neurons and form have
Always been as easy as breathing,
And my eldest, watching me
Watch her sister with pride and relief
Took the quick flip of her
Sister’s neat shoulders,
her muscular legs, and my delight in them,
As a fatal condemnation of hers.
Keene’s our athlete, I’d already said
And Caelan would turn away,
Lips set, her face a block of stone I was
Starting to chisel in a certain way,
That way my parents called me
the pretty one, my sister the brain
So much I still think myself stupid,
My sister makes jokes
About her nose and hips,
Apologies for some step
Repeatedly gone wrong.
We become the names given us,
Even when we know better
We cannot turn away.
I have done this without meaning to,
Without taking proper care,
Training my eldest daughter’s body
To awkwardness with my words
More surely than her soccer coach
Might be able to train her
Any other way.
My words hurt. I am the means by which
A sad history repeats.
I must take responsibility for this.