Wordsmith Wednesday: Miriam Toews “All My Puny Sorrows”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows.

It reads:

“Then Elf tells me that she has a glass piano inside her. She’s terrified that it will break. She can’t let it break. She tells me that it’s squeezed right up against the lower right side of her stomach, that sometimes she can feel the hard edges of it pushing at her skin, that she’s afraid it will push through and she’ll bleed to death. But mostly she’s terrified that it will break inside her. I ask her what kind of piano it is and she tells me that it’s an old upright Heintzman that used to be a player piano but that the player mechanism has been removed and the whole thing has been turned into glass, even the keys. Everything. When she hears bottles being thrown into the back of a garbage truck or wind chimes or even a certain type of bird singing she immediately thinks it’s the piano breaking.

A child laughed this morning, she says, a little girl here visiting her father, but I didn’t know it was laughter, I thought it was the sound of glass shattering and I clutched my stomach thinking oh no, this is it.”

It’s the fears and hopes and dreams and pain and confusion all stirred up inside us. The parts that we don’t want to show to the world, but can easily cut right through us and spill onto the pavement. Onto the shoes of those closest to us. Random moments can cause the glass piano to push at parts of our skin, to stretch it to its breaking point. Those moments are terrifying. When our skin is taut and the imprint of the piano can be seen through our clothes, can be seen by everyone around us. But even worse than that is when, without anyone even knowing, without a forewarning, the piano shatters inside us. Those moments are scariest of all.

– KK

mariam toews

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Jewel “Daddy”

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This week’s words come from Jewel’s song “Daddy” off her 1994 album Pieces Of You.

The lyrics are:

“My bones are tired, Daddy
I don’t get enough sleep
I don’t eat as good as I should, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I sleep past noon, Daddy
Drink lots of black coffee and I smoke like a chimney
Yes, I left the refrigerator door half open, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to rip out your throat, Daddy
For all those things you said that were mean
Gonna make you just as vunerable as I was, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to bash in your teeth, Daddy
Gonna use your tongue as a stamp
Gonna rip your heart out the way you did mine, Daddy
Go ahead and psycho-analyse it
‘Cause I’m your creation, I’m your love, Daddy
Grew up to be and do all those sick things you said I’d do
Well last night I saw you sneak out your window
With your white hood, Daddy
What’s that say about you?
I’m sloppy, what’s that say about you?
I’m messy, what’s that say about you?
My bones are tired, Daddy”

I remember listening to this record on big, red leather headphones on my dad’s old receiver at my childhood house in Tinley Park. As a child, I didn’t quite understand the implications of child abuse but I could tell by the delivery and repetitive questioning that these lines were meant as provocations against a mean, white supremacist parent. Jewel’s technique of holding a monologic conversation with a manipulative father gradually unpacks her insecurities, assumedly enforced by psychological/emotional abuse, but flips that insecurity into pointed contempt as the song unfolds. Through this trick, she owns her brokenness and exposes the cracks in the force determined to break her. This album opened me up to a variety of new perspectives and emotions as a boy, but this song still stands as a statement of strength that can be forged from pain, a righteous spit in the face of the ignorant oppressor/abuser. Keep spitting.

– NR

jewel