Little Boy Blue: A Memoir in Verse
by Gray Jacobik,
Laurel Books, CavanKerry Press,
63 pages, paper, $16,
ISBN: 978 – 933880 – 22 – 8
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The art of being a parent is often portrayed like a Norman Rockwell painting, an idyllic frieze with a parent looking fondly at a freckle – faced child who smiles dotingly back. It is a well – polished image of what we want parenting to be. When we ask the question, “How are the kids ?” we like hearing how they graduated, have a new job, a good one, and have met someone — a fairy tale with the prince and princess getting married and starting the lovely cycle of life all over again. But that isn’t how it always is.
In Gray Jacobik’s new book, she turns the parenting fairy tale on its head. She reveals not only how she as a parent often failed — failed for reasons any of us would fail — but how her bi – polar son would never live a normal life, would inexorably change her own life, and would lead her to do things she’d never imagined she’d do.
Not often do I find a book of poems that I read from start to finish, but this book moves so furiously forward, taking us from her teenage romance to a pregnancy that her family sought to cover up, from her desperate struggle to parent a child who seemed charged on an Eveready battery to the agonizing slide of her son into mental illness, that I could not put it down. What is so refreshing is how unsparingly she speaks of her own feelings: her not wanting him, her needing him, her being exhausted by him, charmed by him, frightened by him. Her wanting her own life, her seeking men to replace those he wore out. Her wanting to escape. As a parent, I have felt the same way. The wanting out is not a pretty thought, but it’s there like a loaded gun.
For all the agony, however, this book is filled with tender moments of wonder as she discovers who he is:
Hyperactive was the diagnosis.
What, in the ancient world,
would they have said of you ?
Or in Charlotte Bronte’s Spawn
of Dionysus ? Imp ? Hellion ?
And yet such a sweetness
in you too, a tender – heartedness
& sympathy . . . hypersensitive, living
in a culture that had to brutalize
She watches him as he talked to birds, dogs, cats, any small animal and, eventually, with his own radio show, to the air. She recounts the little episodes that made — and make — his life endurable: the over – the – edge jokester as a child and, as an adult, his radio show “The Atheists Hour,” mocking the religious right. She carries us through several marriages — men as lost as her — and how, even after long drives to bring her son home, she takes solace in the little boy who pesters her:
Hey, mom, make a wish. .. . .
In the boy who tells her:
Mom, you’re most like a zebra — calm & flashy.
Who asks again:
. . . Mom, be serious. Make a wish.
And she responds,
I wish I’d never hit you or screamed at you.
Any of us who are parents nod our heads and say, “Yes, yes, we are with you.”
This is a book that will take your heart, but you will feel safe in the hands of a woman who speaks clearly and honestly about what is behind the pretty pictures: our lives.
— Bruce Spang