Sunday, May 10, 2009


My daughter, she isn't a sleeper. Often she wakes in the small hours, and there's no getting her to sleep. I'll pick her up, when she's done nursing, and carry her back and forth, in the old carriage house in back of the provost's mansion at Yale. I'll sing her songs, old easy-to-sing songs, songs from here and there: sea shanties and folk songs. Bob Dylan. Arlo Guthrie. "Longer boats," by Cat Stevens, is a favorite, with its refrain, "longer boats are coming to win us, they're coming to win us, they're coming to win us." Tori sometimes asks for that, by what she conceives to be its name: "komintowinnus?"

I'll walk and sing for a long weary time. And then I'll lie down with her on my chest, and we'll both fall asleep for a couple hours.

I guess that was a while ago. I was in grad school then, so it must have been the mid-eighties.

Today she looked very small, down in the back row of folding chairs. A towering young man was on either side of her. I worried: would she manage to get around to the stage at the right time, in the right order? Would she trip on the steps? There were all those hands to shake, and a photographer waiting at the other end of the platform: wouldn't she get confused? She never was much good with lots of stimulation. She tended to just stop, when bewildered. I was afraid the whole ceremony might come to a halt, with Tori, fluttering like blinded moth, unable to proceed.

She's a brilliant student, said one of her professors to me this morning. So mature. Several steps ahead of most of her peers. No, I answered. No, you don't understand. She has tiny little fingers and toes. She still doesn't sleep through the night. I know, I know she can look like a student, and talk about how ribozomes produce proteins and the consequences of Lord Curzon's policies for later Pakistani politics and the development of Elizabethan stagecraft, but this business of graduating her from college is absurd.

Somehow though no one quite grasped that this was a ridiculous idea. It was all "phi beta kappa" and "cum laude." Nobody would talk sense.

She made it across the stage fine. Shook hands with the Dean, and the President, and the commencement speaker, Ray Suarez, and she never tripped once. Stood for her photo with aplomb. So that's all right.

But tonight when she wakes up she'll be little again, and I'll sing her "komintowinnus," and she'll fall asleep on my shoulder. You wait and see.

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