The Ungovernable

One thing I’m not doing in my poems: reporting
on anything that really happened.

When I say I’m from New York, Glaswegians say, “Oh, I love Woody
Allen.” They cannot construe how large a state can be. I just happen to
actually be from Manhattan.

How impractical, to imagine that a structure like a government would be
responsive to the needs of such a lot of people. Held like in a holding pen.

In the early 1990s I saw a yellow Indian drunk in a tattoo parlor in
Seattle. He literally said he could literally see right through me. If he said
it figuratively I took it literally.

A lot of people in America do not want regulation from the government.
In principle: our forefathers, our persecution. Ideally we wouldn’t need
industries and individual actions to be regulated. We wouldn’t even need

People, including people who run corporations or work for them, would
just behave responsibly. Corporations would take the responsibility of
personhood seriously.

My mother cannot be trusted to restrict me from buying R-rated
videogames at the porn store.

My mother struggled to love me—the firstborn had been so tractable—she
still struggles to love me—can she be commanded to love me? Now I see
what those commandments are about. There must be a God.

Objectively we could expect that our family members would go out of
their way to behave toward us with extra care, concern, and with love.

Sometimes there is a harsh disjunction between what objective perception
would suggest to us we might expect and what really takes place, or
“occurs,” within the framework of what we call “our lives.”

I really saw the other day for the first time that my mother did not
naturally take to me—I am not much like her. It would take an effort for
her to understand what matters to me. (Her love will come around.)

My own daughter is quite different from me—I think—it’s hard to tell, she
is only five years old. But she looks different—takes after her father, as I
took after mine—and so far her concerns are not my own. She loves pink.
I hate pink. (My love moves faster.)

Where would that moral activity come from, to behave responsibly
toward others? Not to overcharge, not to seek loopholes, not to dominate,
not to oppress. Does anyone consciously oppress? I guess some spousal
abuse comes from the pure urge to dominate, and the ire that results when
that domination is resisted, or thwarted . . .

But is it a pure urge or is it coming from an inscribed narrative of gendered
hierarchy? Like a man wearing a wife-beater has been told too many times
that his wife is supposed to listen to him and obey him. Now if he can be
told by the government that “My Strength Is Not for Hurting,” a local
billboard campaign, maybe that will ring in his ears when he lifts his fist.

If the government doesn’t do it, who will do it? The church used to do
it, and still does. The one time I went to church, with my mother, in
Tennessee, when we were at a family reunion and the whole family had
certain activities, and one of them was “church on Sunday,” I was brought
to tears by the simple goodness of the message that the pastor, or reverend
—minister?—this was a Methodist church—was preaching. It was Father’s
Day, actually, and he talked about how fathers ought to make sure to
spend time with their kids. Turn off the TV, he said, and spend some
time with your kids.

I was crying because I am not used to an experience of shared instruction
in goodness. It was very moving to be in a room with real people all
receiving the same instruction.

“The Ungovernable” appears in One Morning—. Copyright 2015 by Rebecca Wolff. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.