My Poem for My Stepdaughter

             for Aja Sherrard at 20

The portent may itself be memory.
—Wallace Stevens

How hard to carry scores of adults on your back, 
not look at them as carrions of need, the distress 
of what loyalty requires. This pain is human, 
formed from plunges and positions,
misjudged from various heights.
For your love is of a practicalist tucked 
under purple quilts, sad conundrums, 
under the dearth of too much identity 
mixed with middle-class signifiers.
And then some from all other signifiers
like two magicians in someone else’s window.
How ceremony
for you was linked to desire, and not to a lie.
What you had is that writing came
from the same plumed pen as your father’s. 

And when you were writing we took note.

For so long the diary contained a seal depicting a wayward sense, 
descriptions for the sake of describing:
for what? for whom?
Now you’re growing—writing is skyward, a future tense.
There is a mountainous place. 
It’s where my crusty poetry lives,
and where my impulses reach across 
the divide to a charted, snowy place.
There is still bewilderment set between our conversations. 

Because we wanted you to mature.

Because you see it as our permanent discontent.

Nonetheless, we are close to the stitches 
where perfect boundaries darken us to you.
We hope willfully that we are close to the expiration of 
seemingly endless agitation.
Or we are in for years and years of 
its wild growth.
How encumbered-now memories existed
before the truth of a portent, which I have 
always taken to mean a warning.

Copyright © 2018 by Prageeta Sharma. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This was a poem written to my stepdaughter, Aja, nine years ago, when her father, the late Dale E. Sherrard, and I were trying to unpack some of the difficulty around the psychic and turbulent family wounds surrounding his previous marriage, secrets we felt were harmful and unresolved. I was reading Wallace Stevens at the time and admiring how he ruminates around words that become imaginative sites of investigation, words building their double meanings as they get repeated. I was thinking about the word “portent” with its psychic and mystical draw to address a warning, what’s harmful, what’s prophetic, what might change or transform when the word is repeated. I reflect now on the poem being just a deeply painful place of miscommunication and feel the gratification of how the poem has changed its meaning. It allows me to address my relationship with Aja, one that is even more precious now that we, together, feel the loss of her father and have worked harder than ever to have our own sort of love.”
—Prageeta Sharma