‘Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written In An Election Year’


by Erin Belieu

From the backseat, Jude saying, Mama, I HATE
Republicans, and the way he says HATE,
saying it the way only a seven-year-old can,

saying it like he’s very, very certain,

is plenty disturbing since I’ve never once
heard the word HATE come out of his mouth
until this morning. And there are those

who may be reading this poem,
those people without children, or
those, I should say, who choose not
to have children, you might be impatient

now that Jude has appeared here to make
his meaningful pronouncement, and I
get how tedious it is, listening to those

who choose to have children
drone on about the stupidity of standardized
tests and the difficulty in finding authentically
organic apple juice; but I beg your patience and

ask you to imagine how unnerving it is to be
responsible for these weird beings who rarely
do anything you’d expected when you were
reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting;

how we’re suckered into thinking this kid stuff
is a science when really it’s the most abstract
art form, like you’re standing in a gallery at

MoMA, staring at an aquarium in which float
three basketballs, and the piece is titled
Aquarium with Three Basketballs,

and you’re looking at others in the gallery
considering the basketballs and they don’t look
as if they’re having some cross-eyed internal
struggle, and you’re sweating a little

and embarrassed, thinking,
There’s a message here that I’m not getting,

which is what I feel like, often, to have a child,
and what I ponder in this moment; whether I’ve
blown it again, as Jude, nicknamed by his teachers

“The Radiating Joy Machine,” boy of peculiar light
and unusual kindness, has arrived this morning
in the backseat of the car, belting out the word
HATE and sounding like he absolutely means it.

And there are more practical difficulties beyond
what could be viewed as the self-indulgently
philosophical, such as Jude’s father, my ex-husband,

who’s given me a speech the day before about
not pushing our politics on Jude and letting him
make up his own mind when he’s old enough
to understand the complexities of the issues.

And, on principle, surely, I agree,

though I know another factor must be
that Jude’s father is now married to a woman
who’s half Cuban and from Miami, who’s not

thrilled with Jude piping up about republicans and
booing every time a GOP candidate appears on TV.

And that’s what you call the realpolitik in action
when it comes to divorce, wherein the rubber hits
the “blended” family’s road. But since I’m not

half Cuban and not from Miami, I don’t pretend I
can speak to the cultural pressure and loyalties of
the single-issue voter, though secretly I want to say
to my ex-husband, the die-hardest of liberals –
something I’ll always love about him – I want to say,

Really? When your beloved aunt is gay, as is my
brother, whose husband is a political exile from
Colombia? When Jude has a medical issue that

might someday be cured by stem cell therapy,
as insurance drains our paychecks every month
while refusing to pay for a single, useful thing?

Really? But deep down, I know he’s right. If Jude
has come to HATE, it’s probably come through
me, even though I try so hard to love the sinner

even when the sin is the most fucockulous
interpretation of the Old Testament
that makes me want to grab every Christian
evangelical by the neck and shake them till their

brains kick in. Which makes me think of my friend
Matt, a boy I had a crush on in high school, who’s
now a corporate attorney in Houston; Matt,

who’s tracked me down on the Internet and we’ve
taken to flaming each other about politics by e-mail;
how recently he sent me his beautiful family’s
Christmas card, and honestly they don’t look evil,

and Matt says he’d rather choose whom to help with
his money than have it flushed on social programs
that clearly don’t work. And while he doesn’t convince
me, I grudgingly acknowledge this point of view and

concede that not all Republicans, even tax attorneys
in Texas, are necessarily Earth-raping titans
with $7,000 shower curtains, that they may have
actual convictions, holding them as dearly as

I do my own. So finally, I tell Jude we might
STRONGLY DISAGREE with people’s opinions,
but we try to love the people themselves. Then I
tell him briefly about a guy named Gandhi and
another guy named Martin Luther King and how

the progressive mind always triumphs in the end,
and he’s maybe paying attention, though he’s tricky
that way and glazes over often, as you can imagine.

But he’s satisfied for the moment, squinting through
the foggy car window, and I feel better as it’s morning,
with the sun just poking up over the canopied road

as we drive quietly through our tidy neighborhood
of houses with doorway flags promoting pineapples
and football teams and whatever else my neighbors

feel the need to advertise, and I’m thinking
maybe I got it right this time,
maybe I did okay at least; this doesn’t have to
be the thing Jude talks about someday in therapy.

But with kids, you never know,
as our present is busy becoming
their future, every minute, every day.

while they’re working as hard as they can
to perfect the obstinate and beautiful mystery
that every soul ends up being to every other.

About the Author:

Erin Belieu is the author of four books of poetry: Infanta (1995), selected by Hayden Carruth for the National Poetry Series; One Above, One Below (2000); Black Box (2006), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Slant Six (2014). Belieu co-edited, with Susan Aizenberg, the volume The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (2001). With poet Cate Marvin, Belieu co-founded and co-directs VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, an organization that seeks to “explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women” in contemporary culture.

‘Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written In An Election Year’ was first published in Slant Six and Poets for Corbyn.