I'm not a fan of Gibran. Overuse has made him something of a cliche and there's something about his tone that irritates me, I think I tend towards poems that draw on narrative and character rather than this sort of 'telling' language. A few people around me discovered him in late adolescence, when I felt my own tastes in poetry were far more sophisticated. I read a lot of contemporary Australian poets, some of the mid 20th century Americans, a few English poets, Roger McGough was a favourite. I had a big writer crush on W. B. Yeats and was romanced by his love for Maude Gonne. Sylvia Plath came later. But never Gibran. If you aren't sure who Kahlil Gibran is, rest assured you have probably heard some of his poems. Gibran tends to be the poet of choice for those milestone ceremonies - weddings, funerals, naming days.
But I came across this excerpt (below) in a book I'm dipping in and out of at the moment - Buddhism for Mothers with Lingering Questions by Sarah Napthali. I am not a Buddhist, or an anything. But as a parent, I struggle often. I struggle with tiredness, with a sense of not having my own space, with the lack of freedom that comes with having children. I struggle with boredom as I eat dirt and stick pies or make the horses talk to each other. I struggle with Fred's anger, with her tendency to fight every transition, from mealtimes to baths. I struggle when Fred tells me that the girls at kinder tell her she looks like a boy and laugh at her at rest time, saying 'goodnight boy' (and then she tells me that she made that up, so I struggle with confusion about what is her inner world and what is her outer world, and which one matters more). I don't struggle so much with Una because from the moment she was born I knew she was her own person, that she was mine for a temporary time. I've written about this before in this blog but that clear distinction, for whatever reason, is not there with Fred. Maybe it's because I see myself in her so clearly. Maybe it's because she was first. Maybe it's because Una navigated the process of separation from me, from the breast, so easily whereas Fred still clings to the space between us. Anyway, that is why this poem resonated with me. You can read the rest of the poem, but the last lines kind of thrash the lovely bow and arrow image to death, which is why I, and no doubt Sarah Napthali, omitted them.
As for the rest of Napthali's book, it's very much focussed on being in the present moment. Something I loved about motherhood when Fred was an almost constantly delightful baby - in the same way travel reduces you to be concerned only for all your basic needs and the rest of you lives in a state of constant reception, absorbing all these images, sounds and smells. But now, now that there's anger, it's hard to stay present, it's hard not to plan ahead or look back. Also as I said, I look at her and I see all my own childhood anxieties and fears. It's hard not to project them on her freckly, funny face, a face so like my own at almost five years old.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.