Devon Miller Duggan on the Vise Generation

I could start by listing all the things that aren’t wrong. It’s a blessedly long list. But starting there would seem a little like asking for the universe to decide I need another thing or two to keep track of. And it would probably, in the end, have exactly the effect Oprah said it would, and make me at least feel lousy about whining, if not actually better about my life.

And, in truth, I feel pretty good about my life. Maybe even very good. But, cripes, I am tired.

Apparently, I am a member of The Vise Generation. I just thought I was a tail-end-Boomer. And you know how The Boomers are the Have It All, Want It All, Last Manifestation of the post-war American Dream? Yeah, sort of. Vise Generation is feeling a lot more accurate these days. I became aware of it when The Mother of the Wonder Toddler mentioned to me that she’d heard a piece on NPR about it and it had made her freshly aware of how much her father and I are doing for her family. The conversation was by way of saying how grateful they are. It was one of those moments when you just feel really decent about how your kids turn out—precious in so many ways.

So here’s the vise situation: My husband and I make sure that our teaching schedules don’t mesh so that we can take care of our grandson (2.5 years and sweetfunnywonderful) while his mother works 7-12. So we get up at 5:30 a couple of days a week, take him to pre-school at 9:15 and pick him up at 11:15, bring him home with us to wait for his Mama to come get him at 12:30.

I suppose his parents could probably manage to pay for day care. Sort of. Almost. These are people with middle class incomes and medical insurance and one set of student loans. But paying for childcare would pretty much wipe out my daughter’s salary, I suspect. And we wouldn’t trade the time with the kidlet for anything, though another hour of sleep would be pretty welcome. It’d be fine if I were constitutionally capable of going to sleep before midnight, but it’s pretty clear that if I haven’t started doing that after 2 years of this, I’m not going to. And I have tried.

But the grand-kid care isn’t the issue. The mother-care is. Now, let’s be clear. Moving my mother in with us 8 years ago was one of the top 5 decisions I’ll ever have made. No question. And for most of the 8 years, she has been remarkably independent, esp. given that she has had MS for a million years—driving competently, running her own social and medical life to a large extent, taking care of most of her own stuff. And we have a terrific relationship. She is smart, unfailingly generous, wildly loving, frequently funny. And she and her great-grandson have a rhapsodically beautiful relationship that is worth pretty much anything to have gotten to watch and be around.

But things have been steadily slipping, particularly over the past couple of years. And any “normal” cognitive slippage is happening to a brain that is already considerably scarred by decades of MS. So it’s hard, more and more often, for her to dredge up words. And she surrendered her car keys several weeks ago. Something weird is up with her feet that is causing huge amounts of pain in the skin on the bottom (MS just plain mucks about with stuff randomly), so between that, her MS-crappy balance, and several decades of living with a spine that S-curves sideways, walking has gone from bad to worse. Oh, yeah, the perpetual semi-dehydration (don’t get me started…), perpetual sleep issues (you don’t want to be adding sleeping drugs to this brain’s mix…), and a minor obsession with her size-4-ness don’t help.

But all of that is cope-with-able. So far, anyway.

What’s making me nuts is that the sides of her character that have, shall we say, been hard for me to negotiate all these many years are, as is normally the case in these sorts of situations, just plain exacerbated. Do we have a little trouble with boundaries between ourself and our daughter? Yeah. Are we a bit prone to passive-aggression of a Southern Lady-belle sort. Unh-huh. Do we have a great deal of trouble acknowledging that we might have done whatever it is that has the household in an uproar? Oh, hell, yes. Is EVERYTHING the fault of some man (mostly her astonishingly welcoming and long-suffering son-in-law…)? Yeah (and, oh, do I have fun negotiating that recurring mess…).

Do I spend a lot of time reminding myself how much I love this remarkable woman? Yep. Do I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I need to make whatever her remaining time is as wonderful/stable/loving/comfortable as I possibly can without doing so on the backs of the rest of the family? Yep. Is it awful that there are days when she can’t tell me who the president is or what the year is. Yeah—but most of all because it’s breaking her heart to watch herself go down into that fog. And we have more good days than bad at the moment. I think we will at least until great-grandbaby #2 arrives in March. After that, I have no idea. No bloody idea. No bloody freaking idea.

Therein lies the problem. Therein lies the Vise in which we are squeezed.

And we have two wonderful daughters who love their grandmother almost as fiercely as she loves them, and who are here, and willing to help. We have decent, if not lush, resources and a wonderful community. We have (approximate) sanity and (reasonable) knowledge of what needs to happen. We’re on the good end of the scale.

And some days my heart hurts so much I’d like to take it out and throw it away. Preferably over the side of a cliff with crashing waves at the bottom. Some days I spend the whole day vaguely dizzy from anger and grief. Some days it feels like my mother is eating me away from the inside out.

Other days it’s okay. It’s just life. And there is always the radiance of the grandson to balance everything out. Always. But I am afraid of the time when the okay days are consistently outnumbered by the hard ones. And I think it’s coming soon.

3 Questions for Elizabeth Jacobson

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

The poetic line is a continuously endless place of discovery. As human beings it seems that it is so difficult for us to accept the wavering life that is always in front of us. The line helps with this as it lets me be ok with waiting, with stillness, with shouts and chaos – with the loss of control. To wander into and then around in a line of poetry is one of my greatest pleasures as an artist. I find that it is an immense arena of stillness where an energetic, creative mind can practice deeply and transform something seemingly linear into something spacious. Connecting the lines in creation of a poem is so much fun – for me it is like a puzzle – and I get to be a detective as well as a writer.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

A few years ago it felt important to me to write a definition of what I thought a poem was. This is what I came up with: A poem is a moment seized in vision, and the sensations of awareness. I like this because a poem seems to come at me through my body, through the senses — it is visual, it is aural. It may have a taste, a smell — and then somehow lands in the mind, like a magpie — begins to scrounge around and flap its hefty wings. This is the physicality of a new poem coming into being.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

The other night I was having dinner with my cousins and their kids, who are 13 and 11 and 11, at their home. I brought them a copy of my book, Her Knees Pulled In, and it was so great that they were all excited about it – even the kids – it was like turning them on to a new cool app – they all wanted to have a look, read some poems, wanted me to read some poems – everyone was engaged and curious. How refreshing it would be if this were the norm. Forget the candles and paper napkins as hostess’s gifts and bring some poetry instead. What saddens me is that this is not the norm in the United States, like in other cultures, where poetry may be what people want to talk about…. don’t turn away from, but rather dive right in and get going.
Elizabeth Jacobson is a poet and a teacher of writing. Her first book of poems, Her Knees Pulled In, is now available from Tres Chicas Books. Elizabeth has taught writing in New York City at CUNY, and in New Mexico at SFCC, Warehouse 21, and most recently as a teaching artist with ArtWorks. She is the recipient of the Jim Sagel prize for poetry. Her education includes an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BA in English from Rollins College. Check out her website at


Full blue harvest moon
the mesa in the distance looks as if it is lit up with lights
everything resplendent
blue jackrabbits in the tall grass eating
when they should be hiding from being eaten
the rocks a wavy expanse of phosphorescence
like the curl of ocean waves under the chill aluminum sky
under water that is now air
she finds lava, mica, green stones the color of tarnished copper
all the elements have passed this space
time being kind
lifts its dress and lets her feel the tender parts
lets her see how the body yields to everything in between hot and cold
inconsistency the steady backbone of this natural place
is what balances a large rock on top of a small one
carves holes in boulders with its storming saliva and breath
she tastes the contradiction on her arm
salty sea air skin in the red dusty desert
her clothes peel off like scale
she shivers, sweats
irony offers its hand, polishes her in the tin of the moment

Robert Wood Dance

Saturday night at the Lensic–Robert Wood’s “Choreografia.” Here are 17 lines for the 17 small pieces:

the body
has its own
narrative, suddenly




the orchestra
warming up
the dancers
already on stage
the audience
seemingly choreographed

turn snare cast split

like a cup of bitter green tea
drunk off an alleyway
in a great city

the curtain lifts/ start again

For more about the company.

New Poetry Posts!

Work is up from students in Daniel Kilpatric’s class at SFCC–a response to an assignment to write about a town. The idea behind these poems comes from Richard Hugo’s essay “Triggering Town.” Look for them on campus:

Post 1–rough area west of the bookstore’s portal:
Gideon Brown “The stars don’t exist in this place.”
Post 2–same area, closer in towards cafeteria–Unforgiven Valley by Amanda Fresquez
#3–Central Courtyard–Rio Arriba by Martin Herrera
#4–Courtyard to the south–Tiempo Tokyo by Janet Enrique
#5–alcove to the left of Fine Arts entrance–The Orphan by Dylan Leonard
#6 in Courtyard C–Santa Fe by Tracker Miles
#7–“graywater” on the Fitness Center path–Looking Out A Broken Window by Doug Bootes
#8–Fitness Center Path–Away by Aragon Smith
#9–upper West Wing entrance–Crater Lake by Kate
#10–lower West Wing entrance–The old cat lady in the haunted house by Marie-Claude Krawczk

Stockholm Syndrome: Stop Me Before I Read Again

I’m about 3000 pages into a Swords and Sorcery series I don’t even really like. How the heck did this happen? Well, like all bad habits, it has excuses.
I picked up the first one during the summer doldrums because it was lying around the house. Got absorbed, then bored, swore off it, finished it. Same for the second volume.
The third volume seemed unaccountably better (other readers assure me this is not true.) Then I did the unthinkable–I PURCHASED volume four.
I was so embarrassed I hid it in the car. Then I realized, it wasn’t my fault. I was a victim! Of the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages start to identify with their captors. That was it–these knights, maidens, magicians, dragons, ships, cities, et. al. had me hostage for so long I began to like them! To want more.
Thousands of pages more.

Chushingura–poem by Miriam Sagan


I’m neither happy nor sad
Entranced, watching
The 42 masterless samurai
Revenge their master.
I keep thinking, I’ve seen
This movie before
Although it is unfamiliar
And snow has never seemed
More Japanese
Falling from the beautifully curved roof
Of the teahouse.

I should be happy
Here in the Days of Awe
In the golden light of a mountainous October
When Jews
Can renounce their vows
Once a year
Unlike samurai
Who must go on to the death
Except in the lovers’ subplot
With double suicide.
I keep thinking I’ve seen
This movie before
Even though a scratch on the disk
Causes me to skip a scene
And never really keep the love subplot straight
Confusing the virtuous beauty
With the tea house girl
And the two–different but similar–
Ronin boyfriends.

Everything seems
More Japanese
Fish ponds, love, hairpins, revenge–
Then I realize
I did see this before
Only it was the black and white version
And I feel like one of the townspeople
Come out in the snow, hastily
Pulling on robes at dawn
To see the blood stained weary but triumphant
Masterless samurai
Who have killed the villain
Chopped his head off
And wrapped it in a very Japanese
White bag.
I am not a samurai
Headed towards death for honor
But some townswoman, obscure
I’m not even in the subplot
Just watching
In the very Japanese
Drift of snow
Along the soon to be
Deserted street.