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By Richard D’Abate:


Because we’re at the beach today our sadness
knows itself,

Between the sinking sand and slowly measured
falling waves.

Not long ago time was arrow-tipped and

It found its mark before the god of love had
even stirred.

It filled our bones to bursting, era of the second
self begun.

Now every gesture mirrors gestures of a
smaller one.

They raise their arms, we raise our arms, they wobble
toward the sea

Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and
so do we.

We match the steps of half-formed beings—
tender, new—

Ourselves, our future selves, alive but always
cut in two.

We are afraid. The burning sun devours
little bones.

Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the
sliding foam.

We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness
all its own,

And half of half of half is motion’s rule or
none at all,

As when the cresting tops of glittering breakers
do not fall,

Or when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our
children call.

Today’s poem was originally published by AGNI and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Richard D’Abate is the author of a poetry collection, To Keep the House From Falling In (Ithaca House Press), as well as stories and poems in Epoch, Apple and other magazines. His most recent work appears in Agni Online. A native of New York City, his professional life has been focused in Maine: as a professor of English literature, an advocate for the public humanities, and director of the Maine Historical Society, a statewide cultural agency and research center. His scholarly essays have appeared in various publications, including American Beginnings (University of Nebraska Press), on New World exploration, encounter, and cartography. He now lives and writes in Wells, Maine.

Editor’s Note: As a reader and a card-carrying feminist, I was as taken aback by today’s poem for its stunning lyric as I was by the (male) poet’s ability to capture the way mothers worry for their children. (Fathers do as well, of course, but today’s poem is about the experience of young mothers, specifically.) How audacious to take on this persona! And how effortlessly and accurately the poet has captured this unique viewpoint that is not his own. Haters gonna hate, and there are those who feel that a male writing from a female perspective is a patriarchal act of establishing dominion over a realm that is not theirs to control. But the other half of that debate is that of being empathetic, of trying to understand the other from within the other’s shoes, of being sensitive to those from outside our own gender, and Richard D’Abate has done this with today’s honest and heartbreaking work.

The poet has given breathtaking form to the parental experience, naming it the “era of the second self,” calling children “our future selves,” who, through a mother’s eyes, are “alive but always / cut in two.” Even more palpable is the mother’s fear for her children: “they wobble / toward the sea // Like turtle hatchlings, thoughtless prey, and / so do we,” “We are afraid. The burning sun devours / little bones. // Their little mouths will gulp the tangled weed, the / sliding foam. // We run, we start to run, but time has a thickness / all its own … [as] when in dreams we hear, but do not hear, our / children call.” By the skilled hand of the poet the fear and helplessness mothers feel for their children is brought to life through a vivid imagery and lyric beauty so chilling we feel it as if it were our own.

Want more from Richard D’Abate?
Buy To Keep the House from Falling In on Amazon
The Richard D’Abate Lectures: Conversations About History, Art, and Literature
Maine Historical Society: Richard D’Abate Endowment Fund for Scholarship & Special Programs


  1. A stunning poem, in its depth and simplicity.One to be many times savoured. Somewhere below the waterline of sea and sky ‘time has a thickness, all its own’ and our small anxieties ride it like the unbroken wave. The gender of the writer is surely irrelevant?


    1. Thank you for your comment, Philippa. Indeed this is a stunning poem to be many times savored. I have been thinking about your question, whether the gender of the writer is irrelevant, all morning. Perhaps it is because I am coming from a women and gender studies background that the gender of the poet was the second thing that struck me about this poem, after its beauty. Perhaps it is because I read a lot of feminist literary critique and discourse that I felt the need to explore this aspect of the poem, anticipating a particular response from the feminist literary community. But there is one way in which gender influences an understanding of the poem above and beyond my own academic and literary interests and background: Were this poem written by a mother, it would be a confessional/memoiristic poem, a poem written from firsthand knowledge and personal experience. Assuming the poet does not identify as a mother, the fact that the poem is written from the perspective of a mother/mothers makes it, instead, a persona poem. One day, perhaps, gender will be irrelevant to both our experience of art and to our understanding of one another as human beings. But today there is a lively discourse around the intersection of gender and authorship, and reading this poem (in part) through that lens adds another layer of questioning, interpretation, and understanding.


      1. I is SO rewarding to find an engaged dialogue in response to a comment- and rare. I do see that this written by a woman would cast a memoiristic or ‘maternal’ patina over the emotions expressed, the absence of that does undoubtedly contribute to the universal impact of the piece. My question ‘is it relevant’ was not meant as a criticism of the point you made, but because ( and this makes it a philosophic question rather than a gender one) I have an unshakeable belief in many lives and incarnations, and that each of us spans the full spectrum of experience as both. It is still rare for any writer to escape the current cast of gender, and rarer still for a ‘current’ man to express so beautifully that which is more usually fixed in mothers.

        I wonder whether you ( or indeed Richard D’abate) have come across a recent work which this reminded me a little of, and which I reviewed. here Now this is a woman celebrating the lust of love in a way more reminiscent of a man. The appetite’s exuberance speaks as does the poem here, to that which utterly transcends gender. That is all I was suggesting.


      2. Thank you for this, Philippa. I have read and commented on the link you shared on your blog. It is so interesting, to me, that Richard D’Abate’s work has led us to a conversation about gender that led to the work of Melissa Studdard. Thank you for that journey. I agree that there are aspects of the masculine and feminine in all of us, regardless of gender, and I wonder if it is this, in part, that allowed today’s poet “to express so beautifully that which is more usually fixed in mothers.” Redefining gender roles and transcending gender is incredibly important work, and the current sociopolitical and literary climates are ripe for it. Thank you for questioning today’s entry in my series in such a way that has allowed us to consider what this means and where we might already see it happening.


  2. I have reblogged this on the site you visited. Not sure whether you would be interested in the other site where a fairly active discussion took place about a trial in process. The Book stands accused on several counts, but the evidence of the treatment of the Author caused a suggestion that it might be because men do not take women scientific writers seriously. You can find the relevant comments here Yes good to talk!


      1. I genuinely did not send you there to make a sale! But to extend the relevance of gender discussion in another field! I don’t have many followers because I don’t keep to the rules, but the few I do have read deeply and comment thoughtfully. One, a poet, has found his way to you already.


  3. A stunning piece of poetry, indeed, Philipparees! Of the poem, ‘/Time has a thickness all its own./’ and more! Of the dialogue, Caroline Casey of The Visionary Activist, refers to all humans beings embodying female or male this time around ‘regardless of their temporary gender assignment.’ And, as a woman partnered with a true feminist, I know that a man CAN engender the qualities of care and compassion, nurturing of off-spring in the sand.


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