1112: Sl(e)ight by Alice White

20240507 Slowdown

1112: Sl(e)ight by Alice White


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Let me say to you if you haven’t heard: when it comes to my children, I am a sappy father. The first time Langston took off on a bicycle with no training wheels, I was the proudest. Picture of him in his taekwondo uniform cinched with his white belt, same thing. When Anastasia performed her floor routine at gymnastics practice, not a meet mind you, I was the proudest. When Romie hit a wiffle ball off a cone, which any four year old could do, I was the proudest.

I know it comes with the job, this adulation of my children, but nothing gripped me and had me tearing up more than that moment when Romie, in costume, sang Simon & Garfunkel’s “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water.” All the kids in his elementary school play The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe gave their best. At the time, I was going through all kinds of personal challenges, doubts — questioning so much of my life.

I stood in the back taking pictures, and the lyrics, which I’ve heard well over several hundred times, pierced me to my core. I could not help but believe Romie was singing right to me.

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I'll take your part
Oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around

I could not see through my tears to see if the pictures were even in focus. I admired the bravery of all the children on the stage. And I think my tears were also in recognition. That someday, I would have to reciprocate and be his comfort, all of their comfort, that someday he, too, would face inexplicable confusion.

We recognize the vulnerability in children. Our natural impulse is to protect them from the troubles and potential harms that will come their way, knowing that suffering is an inevitable part of their journey. For this reason, the speaker in today’s poem is on alert, like any parent, knowing that the tricks of the world, and of people, disguise the most horrid possibilities.

by Alice White

i. The Magician Calls My Daughter to the Stage
She’s brave, though only seven. She goes up
in front of all the kids and parents in the crowd
she knows, and those she doesn’t. School event.
Dinner theater. Fundraiser. He has her hold 
two corners of a tablecloth for a trick, then bow:
he makes her bow, by pushing her head down,
over and over. The crowd laughs every time.
She smiles politely. Then he asks her, in French,
because we live in France, to give him a bisou,
a kiss on the cheek that was the French handshake
pre-pandemic. She does. He gives her one back.
Then he holds his cheek out to ask for another kiss.
She gives it. He kisses her back. He does this
as many times as the forced bow. The audience
is quieter now. He finally stops. Says, in French,
I love my job. Then he tells us to give her a round
of applause, lets her go sit down. I watched
the entire thing. I laughed nervously. I filmed it. 
ii. My French Friends Defend the Magician
It’s a cultural difference.
Kisses on cheeks don’t mean anything.
He’s from another time.
He probably hasn’t changed his act in thirty years.
It was just a bit.
It was like this when I was a kid.
He’s probably used to playing to an older crowd.
It’s harmless fun.
I wouldn’t have minded if it had been me.
What does her age have to do with it?
He would have done the same thing to a boy.
Just put yourself in his shoes:
People weren’t laughing—I felt so bad for him.
He was just trying to make everyone happy.
I like to believe that people are good,
I like to assume the best in people.
If it had been my daughter,
I would have told her to just go along with it.
That’s different.
Kids know the difference.
I knew you’d be upset.

“Sl(e)ight” by Alice White. Used by permission of the poet.