“The heart of a woman” by W.B. Yeats- and the way it rubs me wrong.

Lingering in the bed a little too long this morning reading poetry. Joined by two lovely sprites to take the edge off a poem by Yeats, the kind of poem that requires me to close the book and revisit my assumptions.

A child’s body keeps us sometimes from acknowledging the budding heart within. It is easier for me to treat her like a “little girl” than to acknowledge the seed of the woman in her smile.

When she pulls close to me and rubs my elbow- the way she self-soothes since her fond relationship with my breasts ended- I never forget to ask her what’s wrong. Being her source of comfort makes it easy to know when to ask the pointed questions.

She rubs a little harder and faster; the sensation moves from a tickle to a scouring. Her lips tug her cheeks toward the pillow. “Mommy…..” she begins carefully.

Her eyes hide behind the unusual sentiment of not knowing quite how to parse a question that might be obvious if our lives were not limited by the minutes and hours of the day.

Unsure of my words, I reach for something solid- the twine necklaces we made together, strung from seed beads and then tied around our necks, our “best friendship necklaces”. I take her little fingers and run them over the beads around my neck.

“I’ll be your best friend for as long as you let me,” I reply, knowing full well the day will come when this honor will be bestowed upon someone else. Gnome smiles. It is enough. Our necklaces, and “mommy’s arm”, the same arm she claimed as a future bridegroom when Little B. and Prophet demanded who she “wanted to marry”.

I want to tell Gnome that her “soft heart” is the strongest heart of all- the sort of heart that doesn’t fear the weight of love, or find reasons to avoid empathy. I want to warn her that romantic love is limited by the available leisure time; and that love of every kind is usually defeated by the expectation of profit or return. I want her to know that love requires courage- and that true love does not oppress or create victims. But the words are too heavy for these few minutes we share in the bed.

She smiles and rolls over to greet her sister. I wonder this once, again, how to give them a love that does not valorize self-abnegation. The conversation between sisters continues.

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