“Things about Myself & the World That I Will & Won’t Explain to My Daughter When She’s Older”




First, drugs.
I’ll definitely discuss drugs.
But I probably won’t mention the time
I snorted heroin
in a dingy McArthur Park hotel room.
Or the times
I tripped on mescaline, mushrooms,
ecstasy, LSD—
laughing my ass off,
witnessing the walls and people’s faces melting,
time traveling,
and telepathically communicating
with animals, insects, and trees.

What I will explain to my daughter
is how drugs
can be both dangerous and alluring.
How one can get so easily hooked
on the rush, the giddiness, the floating away.
How there are days
when all people want to do is float away.
I’ll teach my daughter
how things like art, music, and poetry
can offer a much purer sense
of floating way.

I’ll discuss how poetry
has so greatly influenced my life.

But I most likely won’t mention the time
I was scheduled to do a featured reading,
yet wound up in the hospital that day.
Won’t explain how
when I realized I’d be in the hospital
much longer than I’d expected,
I yanked the IV from my arm
when the nurse wasn’t around;
scrambled into my clothes,
seized a cotton ball to clot
the unnerving pulse of my blood spraying the walls;
then snuck out of the hospital,
hailed a taxi, sped off to my feature.

And rocked it.

I’ll show my daughter
the importance of empathy,
compassion, and consideration.

That said,
I’ll probably not reveal the time
I was blind drunk at my brother’s wedding;
skied naked,
received a summons from the Wisconsin water police—
even after I’d slurringly tried convincing them
that if they didn’t ticket me
I’d take them back to LA,
make them big TV stars—
a river version of CHiPs.

I’ll figure out
how to describe to my daughter
that deep sense of sadness and helplessness
I experienced
whenever I was awoken by the sounds
of an old girlfriend—a rape survivor.
How she’d writhe and moan,
grind her teeth in her sleep.
I’ll relay that young woman’s shame,
how she stumbled over words,
sobbed heartbroken through her history,
when I’d innocently asked
after our first night together:

Did you know you talk in your sleep?

I’ll describe to my daughter
the utter remorse and humiliation
I experienced as a teenager
upon being nabbed by store security
in a K-Mart parking lot
after I’d shoplifted the soundtrack
to Saturday Night Fever.
I didn’t even want the damned cassette.
All I’d wanted
was for my parents to stop fighting,
and not get divorced.

I’ll do my best
to prepare my daughter
for ages 13 through 19;
how those years will be
one great big life-affirming,
soul-crushing rush of proms,
relationships, acne, breakups, and all the rest.

I may even find the appropriate moment
to offer a cautionary tale or two;
how my dumb-assed teenaged buddies and I
would drive drunk,
spin doughnuts on people’s pristine lawns,
pee in gas tanks, jam potatoes in car tailpipes,
and steal road signs—
all because we had no idea
how to express our highly-charged
hormone-fueled emotions
any other way.

Then I’ll play for my daughter
The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.
We’ll dance through the house,
celebrating and commiserating
in the joys and sorrows of those coming years;
loudly singing along as The Who wails:

“Teenage wasteland. It’s only teenage wasteland.”

I’ll teach my daughter
the importance of honesty, justice,
and determination.
Will support her in maintaining
a positive body image.
I’ll confess how in high school
I used an ice cube
and Zippo-heated dirty sewing needle
to pierce my ear,
how it became an infected, swollen mass.
Suffered through shots and antibiotics
for well over a week,
all for the sake of wanting to fit in
because my friends told me I’d look much cooler
if my ear was pierced.

I’ll tell my daughter
she should never let anybody
bend up her aura;
reshape her inner light
into an unflattering shine.
Let her know
that certain mistakes
can never be completely undone,
but in the best possible circumstances,
their DNA can be altered
to embody subtle forms of forgiveness and grace.

That our every breath and heartbeat
have the potential
to compose verses on air—
sonnets of love when it’s freshly baked,
glorious stories of coyote-blooded magic
sending us roaming wild-toothed,
and full-moon footed
into the dense forests of the absolutely alive.

I will reveal
that this is a world where people can hurt and heal.
That there exists the goodness of strangers,
and the absolute cruelty
of those we’ve considered friends.
How the bitterness and anger
we sometimes experience
is no city for permanent refuge.
How certain days
will scatter bats in our belfries,
while others will gush the sweet nectar of serendipity.

I’ll teach my daughter
that in the face of the good and bad of it all,
she can still build an incorruptible, imperishable,
and pleasurable spirit.
I’ll encourage her to wear her name proudly.
Let it be a cradled murmur in the ear.
Bubble & luck. An Attila the Hun of fun.
A get-out-of-jail-free card,
and her own star on Hollywood Boulevard.

May the mere mention of her name
be a cathedral of sweet talk.
Hummingbird flutter.
And on her most troubled days,
may my daughter’s name
be the tears that travel in reverse
to unstain her cheeks,
and brighten her sad, sad eyes.

Rich Ferguson has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Moby, and other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed at the NYC Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, and is a featured performer in the film What About Me? (featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, Krishna Das, and others). He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium, and Sensitive Skin. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor to The Nervous Breakdown. His debut novel, New Jersey Me, has been published by Rare Bird Books/Barnacle Books. More from this author →