Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!
Twenty-one Zoom participants gathered to read and discuss the poem “The Raincoat” by Ada Limón from Milkweed Editions, The Carrying, 2018, posted below.
Without knowing the narrator’s age or gender, we contemplated what seemed like “looking back” at a time when surgery is suggested for a young person diagnosed with what we read as a chronic condition involving the spine. A mother and child spend a lot of time in the car together as attempts are made to attend to the condition—to “unspool” the spine, release breath and bodily pain. A musician comments on the way pain impedes singing. Someone suggests that multiple factors–spending time with mother, massage, and music—together play a part in the narrator’s development of an “unfettered voice” not only as s/he sings in the car but also in the creation of this poem. We notice the shape of the lines on the page: falling in place like the interlocking bones of the spine. More than one person senses that, in the time of the poem, when the grown narrator drives to “another spine appointment” the mother is no longer alive. As the narrator reaches the age the mother was “then” questions arise about her time and effort making all those trips to the physical therapist, orthopod, and masseuse. While driving, another mother is seen taking off her raincoat and giving it to her young daughter. We recognize the narrator’s remembrances and the “aha moment” of gratitude in the words “my whole life I’ve been under her raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel that I never got wet.” The raincoat: an example of metonymy, one word taking the place of so much more.
After receiving the prompt “Write about a raincoat that keeps you dry,” we wrote for four minutes. Four people read aloud. One piece referred to a “triple layer raincoat” made of family, friends, and faith. And, even when we think we need a “tech shabbat” the human connection in these technology-assisted Zoom sessions allow for connection and help in “this rainy season.” Another piece began with a scene of mother and daughter watching television in 1963 with the child’s head in the mother’s lap, comforted by her words about life after death. Several writers listed memories of what they were/are protected from by the presence of mother or other. The “raincoat” can be a hug, a gesture, a look, words. Some of these “have no expiration date” and go on sheltering and restoring. Participants responded to the writing created among us this evening as balm, mantle, or medicine. Narrative Medicine—that’s what we do.
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“The Raincoat” by Ada Limón When the doctor suggested surgery and a brace for all my youngest years, my parents scrambled to take me to massage therapy, deep tissue work, osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine unspooled a bit, I could breathe again, and move more in a body unclouded by pain. My mom would tell me to sing songs to her the whole forty-five minute drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty- five minutes back from physical therapy. She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang, because I thought she liked it. I never asked her what she gave up to drive me, or how her day was before this chore. Today, at her age, I was driving myself home from yet another spine appointment, singing along to some maudlin but solid song on the radio, and I saw a mom take her raincoat off and give it to her young daughter when a storm took over the afternoon. My god, I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel that I never got wet. From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón.