Realia by Jennifer K. Sweeney

My handwriting has become strange to me. It feels more like labor, less like magic thinking forward into the future of what I remember.

When I think of mortality, I always picture my father first. Never my mother. My mother will never die.

In those early days with the baby, I read about concepts of spatial containment in theater. Architectures disrupted by contradictions in light and angles. Paradoxes of scale. Rooms that feel real but the perspectives, asksew.

Mistypes: I want to make a distance. Startling over. Long time, no sea

The house fills with simulations. Trays of wooden vegetables. A singing cash register. Small hammers that pound plastic nails into no wood. I cross the room and a tiny circular saw purrs on the couch.

My friend tells me I need to work on my insults, that it’s too much baggage to carry around that nicey-nice mask into my 40s.

Facebook tells me I’ve been on Facebook for 8 years, tries to toast this anniversary with me (insert cartoon goblet dancing). If I bundled all that time is a predictable line. If something was draining us of our essence (insert Dark Crystal meme generator), why would we live this answer?

Reading my son a picture book, the girl (tragically kind) asks Is it too late to undo what has been done?

He was born during a drought and has no reference point for rain. California. What a disaster, the sky depending on everything to do with us.

What is most jarring about motherhood is every day I am again the director. Sometimes I yearn to be the stagehand. Party guest B who places a loaf of bread on the table and exits.

Parenting tips:

  1. Call things you want them to do “a party.” Examples: a cleaning party, a homework party, a broccoli party.
  2. Talk in different accents if you feel yourself getting frustrated. Don’t go loud, go Southern, Irish. North Dakotan can back you off a ledge.
  3. Don’t argue about eating. Just serve everything with ranch and steady on.

I do all my writing in the spackle of the day. If I do it at all. When it doesn’t feel like anything substantial could happen in four minutes, I give it away. And have to relearn each month that I can catch fragments like falling star-matter. That it still adds up to something.

I dreamed this exact place without knowing it. Moonwalk, copse, grapeleaf, dendrite, going all directions at once.

A three-dimensional volume of air, “space,” surrounds us as we move. Psychologically, large, unbroken spaces are serene, yet bold and dramatic. Small, broken spaces suggest delicacy and complexity.

A carnival illuminated inside a sugar egg. A paper theater. A magic lantern show.

I think it is not very original to say we live forever in some moments that years afterward keep giving off a pulse, but I felt it today. The way we poked holiday lights through the top of the dishwasher box. We filled the box with ourselves, the set structurally and decoratively closed.

Years afterward, my father in stereolight turning along the vinyl platter of Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

I try to write about the realia of oddly artificial places but brainstorm new insults instead:

assjunk, dungcrack, donkeysucker, wedgehead, stenchballs, leechfuck, drunk onion, acid probe, greasehole, spitflap, shitwhiffle, trashweed

It was hard to write fuck. My notebook looked like this: leechfuck, leechbox, leechfuck.

Trying to clean up I realize there is a bucket of snails on the dining room table. What else am I missing?

Don’t argue about eating. Make dinner coupons: eat with your hands, monocolor meal U-pick the color!, pancakes night, indoor picnic, double dessert, let’s-just-put-a stick-of-butter-on-it-and-call-it-dinner dinner.

Pre-empt their oddities with your oddities.

There can be harmony without unity. There cannot be unity without harmony.

How to impress a kid:

  1. Stay a night in a Marriott hotel.


I dreamed this exact place without knowing it. Chickadee, dry grass, no shoes, pervasive buzz.

Mistypes: Vulbearability. The rain slicked wet and shone on the assfault.

I add assfault to my list of insults.

Alone in the doctor’s office, I watch other mothers corral their children to the chairs, pick up dropped Cheerios, help take off jackets and put them back on again. Sometimes I give a sympathetic smile; sometimes I pretend I am not one of them. I have exited the proscenium.

A rest in music. A pause of speech.

Let’s pretend you had a history. Then you lost it. Now, fondly describe it. Is that also realia?

Mothers know how vital unenclosed space is whether they have it or not. Ground, or interstitial space is never just passive, empty distance between other parts; it provides rest and relief in pattern, a visual interval similar to a rest in music, or a pause in speech.

After I’ve not written for so long, I remember how perfectly alone it feels to be in it, inside the life of listening. Being among its gears. The greatest clarifier. So sturdy. Coming out of the blur.

I have a little busytime heart but it’s filled with so much love. I am no match for the delight of their oddities, but I maintain my practice.

It isn’t that motherhood is a performance, but that the space around us changes so dramatically, we are not always recognizable. The self that preceded mother has to watch in her audience of one, the self that becomes. In one observing the other, the selves merge. Over time, the space is made familiar.

Yesterday, we had a fight about wearing pants and we all cried.

Yesterday, they put a costume on the vacuum cleaner and it felt right.

Today, we cut out armholes and headholes on cardboard boxes and wore them outside for the afternoon and drew pictures on each other.

The more textured a surface, the larger the object appears, as it is perceived as a tiny pattern.

He drew a building on his brother, tall and thin, with a vertical line of windows going up, colored in each one yellow. No curtains. All the lights on. The younger one, circles of circles.

Late fall. Wind, and the shudder of branches. You know it sometimes during—this one will keep its little pulse.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of four poetry collections: Foxlogic, Fireweed (Backwaters Press/Univ. of Nebraska), Little Spells (New Issues Press), How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize and a nomination for the Poets’ Prize, and Salt Memory. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in The Adroit Journal, American Poetry Review, The Awl, Cimarron Review, Crab Orchard, Kenyon Review Online, Mid-American Review, New American Writing, Puerto del Sol, Stirring, Terrain, Tupelo Quarterly, and Verse Daily.