The Best Poem

Tara M. Stoppa's Maternal Instinct

Your problems began in 1977
A product of young lust and dime store contraception
As your stomach grew proportionately
Didn't you ever stop to ask
When you could no longer see your feet
What am I getting myself into?

But sure enough, You would have your answer
One spring day, nine months later,
When amidst epidural injections,
And nineteen hours of tears and screams soaked in sweat,
The throbbing lump descended into independence
Making a brash entrance into
The lab coated audience
I guess March really did
Go out like a lion that year.

It did not end there,
And that was only the beginning
Because now the lump cried
And demanded food,
Peed on your lap,
And refused to let you sleep,
And in time, it grew more,
Learned to use its legs for walking instead of kicking,
Mumbled garbled syllables
(Which may have been Chinese for all you could tell)
Tore up important bills,
And spilled grape juice all over the dining room rug.

As it grew,
So did your problems,
Realizing that your "it" was not like other "its"
And you would sit and wonder, questioning
Why me?

When all you wanted was
A little girl to dress up like a doll,
In pretty pink jumpers and tap shoes,
To play house and bake cakes,
And what you got was a precocious,
Pint-sized Henry David Thoreau,
Rejecting your dolls in favor of mud pies and bugs,
Drooling upon your dresses and
Happily defying you with her Osh Kosh B'Gosh Overalls?
(Why couldn't she idolize Barbie instead of
Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazard?)

And the books...
All she wanted to do was read,
To you, to herself to anybody with ears,
And sitting at her little plastic desk
For hours and hours, transcribing the pages,
Scrawled in careful crayon penmanship,
And all you wanted her to do
Was go outside and play with the other kids,
But like everything else she did,
She scoffed at your suggestion,
In obedience to her toddler constitution.

And at least in elementary school,
She had to wear a skirt.
There was nothing she could do about it,
But how spitefully excited you were
When you went out and bought the
First Communion dress,
And there was no way
She could contest you curling iron that day
Or scream for her muddy baseball cap that day,
And that was, you thought,
The happiest day of your life.

As time went on,
You thought she'd grow out of it,
Maybe when she gets a little older
She'll be different
Start going to school dances,
Hanging out at the mall,
Giggling on the phone for hours on end
About Friday night sleep-overs
With all the other prepubescent girls.

But as you feared,
The girls began to wonder why
When you offered to chaperone
Their crepe-paper dances
Your daughter would not join them
Or why they never saw her
Checking out the spring coordinates at the Gap
And you did not know how to answer them,
Because you knew they wouldn't understand
Hell, you'd been waiting years to understand.

But one day,
It seemed
They had gotten her to give in,
She started going to their parties,
Humming along to their giddy songs,
While the phone rang unceasingly
And it wasn't just girls calling anymore,
But boys with cracking voices as well.
And for a moment,
There was the daughter you always wanted,
Maybe all those years of going to Church
Had finally paid off, you mused,
Admiring her argyle sweater vest
And rayon mini-skirts.
She finally beginning to look like all the other kids.

But then you came to realize,
Uh-oh, that's the problem.
And you could see it in her eyes,
Peer torture could never hold up
Against her strong defenses for long
And you knew one day it would happen,
And it did, the night she showed up at the dinner table
Suddenly the bottom half of her had disappeared
Now drowned in a pair of ungodly plaid trousers
Big enough to fit your Uncle Harold

And then the "funny" music
Started Screaming from behind her bedroom door,
And you knew it had all been too good to last,
Your hopes of her dating the captain of the football team
Were gone now
As she began to bring home
Those goofy-looking long side-burned fellows
With their horned-rimmed glasses and spiked dog collars,
And you thought,
0 God, please don't let one of these hoodlums become my son-in-law.

And the day she went to college,
You felt as if you had definitely lost your baby,
There was no hope left at all,
And when she came home that first Thanksgiving,
Quoting people you had never heard of,
And spewing words you couldn't pronounce,
And describing places you had never seen,
And looking more like Woody Allen
Than a blossoming young cosmopolitan woman,
You knew that nothing had changed.

Nineteen years of hard labor,
Kleenexes and
Screaming matches,
Sleepless nights and
Unthinkable sacrifices,
You still loved her
As much as you did that bright March day,
And not a moment ever passed T
That you were not proud to be her



George S. Diamond Prizes
Beck Shakespeare Prize

English Prize
The Erskine Prize
Zinzendorf Prize
Beck Oratorial Prizes