Working Notes: Soft Line Breaks

I end the line.

Choosing to start somewhere else on the page or to mark the occasion with a visual, the decision asks the line above to bend down and look at the line below. I’m asking the page to show how much everything wants to be connected, but we need space to let the reader connect the dots.

Is this space this kind? Is the space an open field for the reader to grass stain her knees?

The baby traces the width of his high chair tray with a piece of cereal. He stops, drops the cereal on the ground. “Uh oh.” Things have to fall, be dropped, to remind us that intentions are well and good, but actions echo, have consequences. Nobody sees my good intention to wash the windows, sweep the porch, but everyone sees the unintended car dent.

In the poem, the lines end

because there is a shadow of logic, of


The words are catching up with the thought and the decisions have to shine, to show how far the work is trying to push into and against language.

Sometimes I worry I’ll swallow my tongue. I’ll swallow my tongue and choke. When I get anxious, I curl my tongue and stick it out. I shape my tongue into a seashell and look in the mirror. If my tongue is still there, if it hasn’t slipped back into the recesses of my throat, I’m okay. I tell this to Theresa, who is a therapist, and she asks about my father.

Can I keep a vigil for the tongue? For the way it might fall? I am worried words will fall without decisions, that I’ll say the wrong thing. I say the wrong thing to Jeremy and my husband shakes his head. Jeremy keeps a straight face, but I’ll remember the head shake and not the straight face.

Can I keep a lantern on or over words? Can I shine a light with a line break to help my reader hear what I am hearing? The line breaks make a new order; make room for my tongue to spread out and not feel crowded by the teeth, the barriers, the way I can’t pronounce the word “bagel” without a heavy a.

I’m making room

for the way tenses and pronouns can’t stabilize. It wasn’t a linear day: the baby woke up and fell back asleep, we had eggs for dinner. Nothing matches. The knock on the door happened when I was in the middle of a thought, but the record player kept playing. I can’t remember the thought, but I remember the feeling of quiet.

The song ended and the guest at the door stayed for another cup of coffee.

I can’t remember her name, maybe it’s Susan, but she never liked the way I mismatched. “Your pronouns don’t make sense to me. I can’t read this.” I felt that in my stomach.

It’s an assertion to give shape, to stop the line. Sometimes I am timid. Sometimes I rely on a comma more than I should. Yes, there should be more periods, but the other mothers think I’m too sudden and jarring. I resist the indent, prefer the

thought: not all words line

or fit in a  box. Like “wait, wait, I need more time,”

was hoping to paint the clock copper, but the sun downed a big gulp and we all rested at the beach today. The porch might never be swept.

This is about anxiety, about being nervous to say things the way they might naturally be said. I mumble and the other mothers say they can’t understand me. I shorten my name to make it easier to say. I give directions to the house and it’s a road map of what I see instead of a list of street names: at the big tree, turn to the yellow house and the wood fence on the corner—the one that Jim put up because his daughter was epileptic—is about three feet away from the house with the hound dog that keeps me up at night, but that’s not really near the corner where I live with a swing tied to a tree and a gopher eating the lawn. The map dims.

Before I write on the page, I stick my tongue out.


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