843: Family Court

843: Family Court

843: Family Court


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

My grandfather used to tell me all the time: “You love making things difficult for yourself.” These words came back to me once as I stood surveying the surrounding forest, somehow off my hiking path and, I realized, lost. I was trying to make my way back to the trailhead before nightfall. I had come to Sunset Ledge too late in the day with no flashlight. My cellphone had no charge. It was Robert Frost who said, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep.” Well…not so lovely when you’ve lost your way.

My heart was trying to win some race. The minutes were passing. Nothing looked familiar. Hadn’t I just passed this clearing? Towering pines and maples, at which, only an hour ago, I had gazed in amazement, faded into thick patches of amorphous silhouettes. I had read stories about people who erringly veered and went missing for days. Some were rescued. Others wandered and tragically met their fate. Why hadn’t I let anyone know? It was early April, when the night temperatures could easily drop below freezing. I feared wildlife. I feared another step in the wrong direction would take me further afield, deeper into a darkness from which I would never emerge.

This was in the initial, seismic weeks of separation from my first wife, that eventually led to divorce. They were emotionally tumultuous; I lived between depression and shock. I needed to witness nature’s beauty and a respite from the sad hotel room and suitcase I’d been living out of. I took an impulsive hike hoping to gain some clarity on the decisions I made that shook my family to its core. In my state, I clearly had made some other decisions which put me in immediate danger.

People are generally good, and no one plans to pass on hurt. Confusion creeps into our lives and suddenly all is unknowable, fragile. It was the sound of water that brought me back. I listened to both my breathing and a nearby brook and found my way. I stepped lightly. I followed water.

Today’s heartbreaking poem conveys those acute emotional feelings of failure and sheer disbelief that arrive when a marriage is irreparably damaged. Once again, poetry, in its restorative powers to name the inner life, sets us on a journey to restoration and rebuilding.

Family Court
by Patricia Kirkpatrick

To get here we carried flowers,
touched skin,
took a vow, made a child,
broke a promise.
Maybe we made mistakes.
Now change fractures the core
of lives we knew,
brings us to benches, hard seats
along the wall.

When two plates of earth 
rub against each other,
having nowhere else to go,
they crack or shatter.
“Brittle failure” geologists call it.

How could it happen to us?
Bodies are mostly water.
We think people want to be good.

Outside, day lilies bloom in planters.
Inside we’re screened for weapons.

We stare at hands or look across the room
where others wait too, stunned
by the passage we’ve booked,
the ticket that delivers us
to steerage,
the lowest deck on a journey.

Some of us are taken to small rooms.
We might have attorneys or 
orders for protection,
push strollers, hide bruises with scarves.
Blinking tears we notice the man
at the door wears a gun in his holster.

The judge stays invisible until the last minute
when a gavel divides voices from silence
and the order of the court.

Far away the oldest bird in the world,
black and white and listed
in field books as “common,”
wails a long call before diving
deeper. Deeper.

“Family Court” by Patricia Kirkpatrick from ODESSA © 2012 Patricia Kirkpatrick. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions.