Poetry Sunday: “Theodicy,” by Meryl Natchez

Theodicy or How Evil Enters the World

Sleep-deprived, disoriented, your nipples so sore
you can hardly bear the baby’s ruthless gums,

and when she cries, you pick her up again,
and wander the few rooms your life has narrowed to,

the soft floss of their hair, the bluish pattern that blooms
under transparent skin, the shrimp-shell nails so fragile

they bend when you try to cut them. Soon
they begin to know who you are, they reach their chubby arms

towards you, they smile, they nuzzle the soft bones
of their fontanel into your neck and cover it with kisses

limpid as soap bubbles, and there has never been anything
more delightful, not sex, not the best meal, not driving fast

in a convertible on a winding road by an azure sea,
and you would do anything for them, and you do,

you give up nightlife, adult conversation, hour-and-a-half
massages, spicy food, uninterrupted thought,

and they learn to walk,
to swim, to read, and you’ve paid for the orthodontist

and endured the teenage years, and paid for college
and helped out with grad school and they’re launched,

with their own lives, their own ways of salting meat,
their own ways of slicing it, their own partners and opinions,

here they are, flawed human beings with adult problems
for which it turns out you are the cause.


First published in Nostos, Volume II, 2018, and reprinted here with permission of the author.

Listen to Natchez reading her poem here.


Meryl Natchez’s most recent book is a bilingual volume of translations from the Russian: Poems From the Stray Dog Café: Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Gumilev. She is co-translator of Tadeusz Borowski: Selected Poems. Her book of poems, Jade Suit, appeared in 2001. The books are available for order here. Natchez’s work has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Pinch Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Lyric, The Moth, Comstock Review, and many others. She is on the board of the Marin Poetry Center and blogs here.



Poet’s Note

This poem came to me while caring for my infant grandson. I was thinking about all the thousands of hours lavished on children—how they completely took over my life for decades—and this new, delightful, cherished life. But also, what I couldn’t imagine somehow is that as they grew, they slowly disappeared from my daily life, reappearing with criticisms and startling opinions. How so many events from the past reappear in a different light, and in that light how often my parenting was found wanting. Can any mother escape blame? We are fallen gods. And this title, a term I first read in that wonderful poem by Delmore Schwarz, “Calmly We Walk Though This April’s Day,” seemed appropriate.

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