Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Wise Man's Smile"

This poem came out of the July 7, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, [personal profile] technoshaman, and LJ user My_partner_doug. It also fills the "being helped" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo Fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"A Wise Man's Smile"

It's the smile class that
knocks Mallory completely off
her feet, and she doesn't know why.

It should be simple, shouldn't it?
Smile at the baby when it arrives.
Babies of depressed mothers can
have delayed development,
blah blah guilt-trip blah.
It just ties her in knots.

She hasn't felt much like smiling
since ... well, not in a long time.

Heron doesn't smile, though,
and he's perfectly healthy.
Mallory knows this like she
knows the grass is green.

It reminds her of a poster that
she had seen in Heron's room
when she went to water his plants,
with some bald monk wearing
a really gorgeous dress.

She remembers what it says, too.

The stronger you become,
the gentler you will be

Heron is one of the gentlest people
that Mallory knows, and yes,
one of the strongest too --
including the supervillains.

She'd seen him clean a man's clock
in a split second, once, with his fingertips.
That had been scary and exhilarating.

A wise man is not grave,
but he appears so because
he is not shallow.

Mallory doesn't know if she
is grave or shallow or what.

It's hard to tell what she feels.
Maybe her parents didn't
smile at her enough.

So Mallory goes home and she
prints up stupid worksheets about
feelings and how identify them.

By the time the door creaks open,
there are pages all over the living room
where she has thrown them, and
Mallory has a headache too.

Heron looks at her, and
the corners of his eyes crinkle.

He does not laugh; his laughter
is not that of a shallow man

Mallory realizes that she has
learned to read the subtle signs
of his moods across his face.

His mouth tightens; above
his nose, the eyebrows tilt up.
Now he's concerned. "How are you?"

"It's not bad," Mallory says,
trying to dispel the worry.

Heron's right eyebrow quirks up.

"Okay, so baby class didn't go
all that great today," she admits.
"The teacher was all over us
about needing to smile more,
so I tried looking up some stuff
and I just -- it didn't help."

At the most he smiles --
even that is too much.

"I can see that," Heron said,
raking an amused gaze over
the scattered pages. "May I?"

His eyes are smiling, at least.

"Please," she says, and means it.
She's too desperate to fuss at him.

Heron bends to pick up the papers,
which is fantastic, because Mallory
has been wondering how the hell
she's supposed to clean up the mess.

"How do you normally manage
your emotions?" Heron says
as he decks the pages and
puts them on the coffee table.

"I don't know, I don't worry
about that shit!" Mallory says,
flinging up her hands.

"Okay," Heron says. "How
did you feel in class, then?"

Mallory crosses her arms and glares.
"Is there a word for my brain exploded?"

In fact he need not even smile
because his whole being is filled
with so much beauty,
with so much beatitude,
with so much happiness,
that he need not.

She can't stay angry at
Heron, though, not for long.

There is something about him
that just gently bumps against her
until she loses her balance and
all the tension runs out.

It is beautiful in a way that has
nothing to do with his sex or his shape;
it only shines through them, like
light through a lampshade.

Mallory isn't sure when she started to find
Heron more soothing than meddlesome.

She is startled to realize how much
she has come to rely on his calm,
to rely on him, and then she feels
a sudden sinking-scrabbling sensation
because she can't rely on anyone else,
she knows that never ends well.

"Hey, no," Heron says, kneeling
beside her to wrap his arms carefully --
always carefully -- around her shoulders.
"Whatever just freaked you out, it's okay,
we can deal with it together."

"Until you leave," she sniffles,
"and what'm I supposed to do then?"

"Well," he says evenly, "that depends
on why you want to kick me out.
What in the world did I do wrong?"

"You're too perfect," Mallory says.
"It won't last, nothing perfect ever lasts --"

"I hate to break it to you, but I'm not
perfect," Heron says. "In fact, you've
seen me being very imperfect."

She has, of course; she's seen him
scared and exhausted and vulnerable.
She never wants to see that again.

"Sorry I was stupid," Mallory says.

Watch a shallow river,
it makes much noise.

She's always freaking out over
something, and he almost never does.

It is a refreshing difference.

Mallory remembers
Heron's roommates,
their honking laughter
so like a flock of geese
fighting over French fries.

"You are not stupid," Heron says.
"I think you feel overwhelmed.
Shall we try again to get to
the bottom of this, or do you
need to do something else?"

"I don't know how to fix this,"
she whispers. "I don't know
how to fix anything, really."

"You fixed my computer," he says.
"But that's not what you mean.
Mallory, why do you feel that
you need to fix yourself?"

She hunches on her cushion.
"I don't want to hurt the baby,"
she says to her lap. "The teacher
said that babies need smiles,
and I ... don't do that much."

"Well, they do, but that doesn't
mean everyone has to smile,"
Heron said. "I don't, and it
didn't break any of my sibs."

"But you do," Mallory says as she
sits up. "You just don't smile
the same way as everyone else."

His whole face brightens,
without moving a single muscle
that she can see; it's like watching
one of those three-way lamps turn up.

"Then maybe you're finding new ways
to smile, too," he says. "And that's okay."

Mallory wants to argue with him,
because she hasn't really felt happy
in a long time, not for more than a moment
or two, but she realizes that Heron makes her
feel ... not happy, so much as less unhappy.

Maybe, by the time the baby arrives,
she'll remember how to smile again.

If not, at least she has someone
to teach her how to not-smile
and still be okay with that.

A deep river moves as if it doesn't move,
no noise -- not because it is not moving.

Heron looks at the papers again, and
his eyebrows lower by a fraction.
"Maybe you just came at this
from the wrong angle," he says.

"What?" Mallory says, stretching
in search of a more comfortable position.

Heron is right there, offering a pillow
so she can lean against the couch.
His hands knead briefly at the small
of her back, and the incipient cramp
melts away like fog in sunlight.

"You looked for the kinds of material
the teacher recommended, didn't you?"
Heron says. "It's probably the wrong tone
for you. You're a theatre major, Mallory.
How do you act emotions on stage?"

The words flip a switch in her mind and
she says, "I think about the character,
what she or he would be doing and feeling
in that scene, then I try to remember when
I felt the same way." She lifted her hands.
"It's like ... I pull it up, then push it out."

"That's great," says Heron. "So just
act a good mother, and that should help."

Mallory giggles. "Even if my role models
are ... unorthodox and don't go together?"

"Who are they?" Heron asks.

"Mrs. Gump and Sarah Connor,"
Mallory says, trying to hide her face.

"I can absolutely see you
as Sarah Connor," he says
in a serious tone.

"Even though I don't know
if I really want ...?" Mallory says,
cupping a hand over her round belly.

"And if some whackjob robot
threatened your little salamander?"
Heron says with a tilt of his head.

Mallory clenches both arms over
her belly, and the empty teacup
on the coffee table rattles.

"That's what I thought," Heron says,
and now he looks a little smug.
"Give yourself time to grow into this,
Mallory, a baby is a big deal. You're
not going to figure it out all at once,
and it's not good to push too hard."

Heron doesn't seem to push himself
and yet he gets everything done,
flowing through the motions like
water running downhill.

It is moving, but it is so deep
that the noise doesn't reach you.

Mallory maybe wishes that she
could be a little more like Heron,
but she stuffs the feeling down
inside because even the thought
of it makes her uncomfortable.

She tries to let go of her emotions
and just flow, everything sinking away
so that it can't bother her anymore.

What she winds up doing is
leaning against Heron, and that
finally begins to untie the knots
which the teacher tied inside her.

"That's better," Heron says.
"Shall we snuggle for a while?"

"Couch," Mallory says, because
her body has had enough of the floor.

"As you wish," Heron says, gracefully
unfolding to his full height and
giving her a hand up.

He turns on the television
and flicks it to Happy Hearts,
then selects Laugh It Up.

Mallory hasn't spent much time
watching comedy this lighthearted --
she tends to go for rough slapstick
and bitter irony and, of course, farce --
but with Heron, suddenly it's fun.

He doesn't laugh out loud,
but she can feel it rippling
through his body where
they lie pressed together.

A wise man laughs in
the deepest core of his being.
It doesn't reach his lips.

This is what helps Mallory
begin to understand why Heron
has no interest in sweaty, sexy stuff.

Perhaps, she thinks, the river of his love
runs as deep as that of his laughter,
a current so profound that he

does not wish it to touch his lips.

* * *


"A wise man need not smile..."
-- Osho

Baby smiles develop naturally in response to personal feelings and interpersonal reactions. If parents don't smile with the baby, however, that undermines this process and creates a sense of abandonment.

People feel different emotions in different parts of the body. This can help identify, understand, and express emotions.

Understand the basic emotions and facial expressions. Here are some emotion cards and scenarios to learn these skills. It may help to color a body outline where you feel, or draw faces.

Crinkles at the corners of the eyes distinguish real from fake smiles. Some people smile only with their eyes in this fashion.

See an example of a worried face on this computer model.

For actors, emotion is their job and much of it comes down to body language. There are tips on becoming a good actor, acting out emotions, and developing emotional intelligence.

Among the best movie mothers are Mrs. Gump and Sarah Connor, for very different reasons.

Happy Hearts Television is a nonprofit company started by a therapist on community content, which grew into a whole media group of its own. They get substantial donations from mental and physical health care providers who want to have completely safe, soothing stuff to play in their offices or waiting rooms. The original Cottoncandy Channel, now called Cottoncandy Classic, runs an assortment of upbeat and family-friendly programs. Most of that is fiction, but it's a mix of movies, television series, and cartoons. They also have some nonfiction interludes of light meditation, coping skills, and so forth. Laugh It Up brings out the comedy.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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