Poetry 180: The Cord

Another piece in this “series” that I recently enjoyed in my latest endeavor and resolution to write and read more poetry, starting with Billy Collins’ compilation of Poetry 180.

The Cord By Leanne O’Sullivan

I used to lie on the floor for hours after
school with the phone cradled between
my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold
rice to my left, my school books to my right.
Twirling the cord between my fingers
I spoke to friends who recognised the
language of our realm. Throats and lungs
swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,
toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,
about the boys who didn’t love us,
who we loved too much, the pang
of the nights. Each sentence was
new territory, like a door someone was
rushing into, the glass shattering
with delirium, with knowledge and fear.
My Mother never complained about the phone bill,
what it cost for her daughter to disappear
behind a door, watching the cord
stretching its muscle away from her.
Perhaps she thought it was the only way
she could reach me, sending me away
to speak in the underworld.
As long as I was speaking
she could put my ear to the tenuous earth
and allow me to listen, to decipher.
And these were the elements of my Mother,
the earthed wire, the burning cable,
as if she flowed into the room with
me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,
the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this
and when you feel removed from it
I will pull the cord and take you
back towards me.


I think often about A, and what it will be like for her in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and for our relationship as mother-daughter. During the first few days after the delivery, when the hormones were raging through me, I was alone briefly with her and holding her in my arms. She was sleeping. So tiny. I couldn’t stop looking at her face. I started to bawl. I thought about how she would be 18 in a blink of an eye and living a life away from me, and the thought of it just killed me. Yes, again, hormones. Andy walked in at that moment and I felt like such a doof explaining that to him. (He seriously must have had no clue what to do with me 90% of the time during that first month – I was a mess.)

You know, I’d dreamt of her so often before she came into being because I longed to have the kind of special bond that only happens between a mother and daughter. I imagined tea parties, sleepovers, and secrets and giggling, and witnessing her first realization that she is beautiful as she glimpses at her reflection in a storefront window. And, of course there’s catching her first pop fly or blocking the soccer ball as she tries to mimic Hope Solo. Her ballet shoes hanging over the chair in the room or calming her jitters before her first piano recital. Her excitement about her first sleepaway camp and the stress of college applications, and dreaming with her about what she might pursue in the future for her life’s work.

But, I know there’s a lot I won’t know and be a part of in her world. And, that’s so hard. I came across a tweet that has stayed me these last couple of days, as I think about what it means not only to be a parent, but to parent:

RT @BrianLehrer: MT @david_caddock: I think verb “parent” lies somewhere between “push” & “give space”, challenge is knowing when to do what…

Seems a fitting reminder for all our relationships, but definitely for our children, for our daughters, for my little A. Because my “job,” my task with her isn’t only going to be to mold her the way I see fit, necessarily, but to let her mold and shape me, too. Which she is doing a good job already. Still, I’m going to hold on to that cord, no matter how far it stretches away from me, and gather her to me in our secret place when she needs it.

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