Autonomy
Now at three, my daughter answers every question
beginning with “Would you . . . ?” by saying, “No.”
And every gesture I make toward her she considers
an act of aggression. She is fierce in defense
of her integrity while reminding me many times
each day that “I love you, Dad.” And I understand.
I love her, too, and would stand aside as, like a flower,
she blooms. When I was ten, my father made me sit
outside in full view of the neighbors and play German polkas
on the piano accordion. It was hot, and both my body
and the large black musical instrument became slick
with sweat. I tried to play quietly, fantastically
hoping no one would hear, and my father screamed,
“Louder, play louder!” I felt I could not bear
my embarrassment and impotence, my father’s complete
power over me. Yet I did bear it. I bore it as I had to.
Such a small thing: to play the accordion for one’s father.
But it was not small. Those moments of childhood return,
and my stomach is a dense knot of hatred and shame.
My sad father, wanting happiness and ease, shaking
with exhaustion when he came home from his labor,
called me to bring the accordion outside and play
while he rested, and I bitterly did so, and he knew.
But he could not change it, could save neither
himself nor me. So you see how it is that I am elated
when my daughter says no again, her voice a single petal
that I must not try to catch as it tumbles to the ground.