Of Being Lodge(d): A Poetics of Fatherhood

[Editors’ Note: This inaugurates a series of posts on different forms of parenthood. A. BRADSTREET maintains two ideas: 1. motherhood is not determined by biological givens; and 2. a rethinking of the poetics of motherhood must involve a revision of the poetics of parenthood in general, particularly that of fatherhood. Welcome to the new year!]

by Jonathan Stalling


When Mia asked me if I wanted to send in a piece for A. BRADSTREET earlier in the spring, I was thrilled though a bit nervous. First, it is an honor to be invited into an environment that opens a space within/between the praxis of poetics and the experience of motherhood (and in my case fatherhood). The nervousness comes from the sense I have of the words, as of yet uncut from the stuff of life, that speak (or will fail to speak) of the implications and complications of parenthood as a gendered experience. Also as a father who is also a poet and critic, I feel it is incredibly important to acknowledge the accretion of various kinds of privilege that condition my socially, culturally, and logistically situated experience. In short, my poetics of fatherhood is conditioned by a different set of experiential nodes than those of many parents. My wife Amy is a dancer, sculptor, and painter, but she is also the one of us that lives within the steady state of our lodged space (children) especially since our home-schooled daughter has returned full-time where she joins our two-year old son Rowen, and now our eldest son, Isaac, who decided he also wanted to switch to a home school environment for middle school. While I do go to work for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, I do believe it is ok for me to talk about a “poetics of fatherhood,” even if this 9-5 schedule shapes my experience of being lodge(d) within? the space of children. This weekly work-shaped time unfolds as a tugging between different points in my constellated being, or what I will call the displaced geography of parent-being (lodge) and will differ from other parent/lodges. 

The space of parent-being in my case is characterized by a recurrent tidal pulling between home, work and traveling (I do travel quite a bit as a lecturer, poet and editor) making my experience quite different from my wife’s or, for that matter, my parents’. I was raised by my mother, who is also an artist, and her art, like Amy’s, has gone through long periods of being awashed with parent-being. And I cannot speak to this full emersion experience because my experience is one constellated by this pulled space, a stretched being that pools and pulls while always remaining totally and radically plural. Yet a plurality inside a displaced geography is one dispersed in a way that is contingently, situatedly the space “I” come to be within, or as, it. Looking back at my “Lodge” poems, which I will talk about at some length in a moment, I can now see that they were shaped by this pulling even early on. But as I begin to reflect on this poetics, I feel my position of enunciation as a thick presence undergirding so much of what follows, and feel that my experience may make my “lodge” vulnerable to abstraction, to a poetics precisely because certain outsides may appear, if only momentary and peripheral in the psychic stretch between home and work, or as I travel, and this idea appears even in the early lodge poems before our children were born:

Love is spelled like a kind of distance,

Means in most cases what distance means

When flown into becoming the space of us.

This notion that love is a traversal of a perceived space as it becomes shaped into a plural being is something I am still puzzling over. Now I think that the plurality does not require a crossing of space even figuratively, but that space can make it more apprhendable. The pulling of plural being, as felt in romantic love, has its own shapes in parental love or “parent-being.” So I feel the poems that follow from “Lodge” are not to be taken as a “poetics” in the sense that they may speak to any kind of ontology or fixable sense of what fatherhood “is” or even “feels like” (though I would hope that “poetics” would necessarily contradict such fixities) but I do believe the work that follows does so from within the matrix of my particular parent-being.


The last sequence of poems in in my book Grotto Heaven (Chax Press 2010) pursues a way of imagining the interplay of self/other within what I perceive to be the immersive, racially non-dual experience of parenthood. The first two portions of that book explores otherness in language and phenomena, but the third explores differentia within the self, what I imagine to be a displaced geography of a parent-self as it becomes increasingly heterogeneous with the advent of children entering the aggregate of this plural “I.” The poems begin in Edinburgh, Scotland (where my wife and I first lived together and where our son Isaac grew through his embryonic months). The poems then trace out the arch of our move to the Chicago land area; Buffalo, New York where our daughter Eliana was born; and to Norman, Oklahoma, where we all began to grow a bit older together and still are. In this sequence of poems I hoped to trace something of the diffusion of the “I” into the aggregate of a plural, socially constituted self within the co-presence of my wife and children. I had spent some time searching through our culture’s offerings on the subject of parenthood (and love, more generally), which left me with a sense that the so-called domestic space, within which these tend to be coded, did not seem to reflect my experience, so I wanted (and still do) to open a poetics of a familial “love/being” both existentially and aesthetically in a generative way that felt akin to life I was experiencing. I hinged this work on the notion of “lodge,” a term that seems to account for my sense of fatherhood (and husbandhood).

Here is the short introduction and the poems from the “lodge” section of Grotto Heaven:

Sequence Three: Lodge·· 宿 departs from the theme of relating to the unknown by way of leaning toward it, past a return to a unified, knowing self by acknowledging the already plural relations at “home.” Here the term lodge is explored as another measure of attending to relations already always within the self’s space. As a noun lodge is a small usually temporary dwelling, (a tent, arbor, hotel or the like); it is a place of sojourn, a place to accommodate, or a collection of objects ‘lodged’ or situated close to each other. In this sense, I want to explore the self as such a constellation or aggregate, of tightly packed relations lodged in temporary shelters. As a verb the term denotes extending hospitality, receiving others into one’s home, providing habitation, harbor or seeking shelter in or from another. Such a verb is less an action taken, than an action already taken. Becoming aware of this, however, is awakening to dependence, and in that sense, the ethics of being. The first two sequences may suggest a mysticism that moves away from the traditional desire for an identity with divinity and the certainty, knowledge, vision, and power such an identity would mobilize. But here (in the third sequence) one no longer needs to leave for relations to emerge. Lodged, we appear in the half-light, as multiple, shifting configuration of relations with(in) others. In Chinese, lodge 宿 is both the verb “to lodge” for the night (xiǔ), a lodge (as in hotel) and the ancient word for a celestial constellation (xiù): The poems in this sequence explore the contingent withness of this being.

The Compiler, Norman, OK, 2009

While I have written more poetry in the lodge series since 2007, my initial discomfort with writing “about” our family remains as strong as ever, and I am still processing the newer work and may indefinitely, or until the moment I’m not. I was always uncomfortable with the notion of thematizing the “them/us.” Even poems that feel open and buoyant in the way I need them to be, something of a path in them still points away from the dynamic mystery of their/our being into something other than what it is.

So, as something of a conclusion, I would mention that one of the things about writing into/out of the space of fatherhood, is that the poetry may perhaps too often trip/skip into celebratory registers that complicate their page-feel as poetry (too light perhaps), or swing too far in the other direction, as the terror of our vulnerabilities take hold. In short, lodge appears to me as the woven space of feeling filaments, a nerve enwrapped impossible “whole,” a flailing miraculous aggregate impossible to shield in perfect safety, that leaves one with the joy of being (with/in others) and an unmet (fierce) longing for their health, joy and a light-enfolded sublime safety.  The prayer for this recited infinitely within the unconscious and verbally at a child’s bedside has revealed to me, anyhow, a basic heliotropic instinct within plural being. And while joy pervades my life at the cellular level, I also know I live as a body with organs that are not my own, but belong to the mysterious walkers of other pathways (always so radically free) that at any moment, the “I” that writes these words, can disappear entirely, lost to another’s time line. And yet life keeps showing me, day by day, that fatherhood, like the rest of it, leaves something astonishingly like a “me” intact. Still this is the “constellated lodge” that drew me to the term “liu,” as a figure for parenthood, to be the aggregated lights deep inside the Grotto Heaven (which as a book ends with the poem: “Friends, We are constellations for a night, then disappear in the light.”)

A selection of poems from “Lodge” (excerpted from Grotto Heaven):


Here among us

the I is an outflow

The experience of staring


in the glassweave

less bound

to the wavefall of light

than shifting rudderless

than ambiguously edged

than stubbornly expressed waves

caught in the act of falling


     The Space

     Opened by your voice

     or the I that takes place here

     isn’t one without it

     The movement and event

     of the sounding itself

     is the lodge

     the taking place of us

     appears here in the encounter

     which opens as our own

     A self is a rupture in awareness

     housing windows

     bridging the echo’s return

     and forgetting the mirror’s immensity

     polishing cannot vanish

     the obscure approach

     Becoming the chamber

     of a self isn’t a place or presence

     just the name of returning to or from

     the sound of your voice


A ripple in the words

Or an opening beneath them

is small enough

for children to take place


     To overtake communication

     the rupture itself

     becomes the very heart of the world


The countless garden is the ease

of loving them








a continuum

of wing




     What a thing!

     we don’t have children


     Anymore than the atmosphere




In the half dark

She is pure current


      Ecstatic blue flame

      nearing syntax

      in half formed words


I am made of her language


     I can’t wait to poor cereal

     into her chipped green bowl






his eyes are more than I can handle

his laughing is an outside of my own mind

emerging continual rupture


     only one thing more frightening

     than listening to the stammer


     small silvery insects

     in their chests

     cellophane wings

     almost light


what does it mean?

no shore

or cusp

to them

less a shelter



open to chance




We can’t gather each other

into the cotton sieve

of a gentler interpretation

or wrap this withness

into a tissue of unvoiced fricatives


     we are not quietly decidable 

     sound or noise

     we are barely the possibility of




into becoming

each other’s







Jonathan Stalling lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife Amy and children– Isaac, Eliana, and Rowen (and lots of animals). When not at home (which is where he spends almost all days after 5 and every weekend) he is an Associate Professor of English at OU specializing in American Poetry, East-West Poetics, Comparative Literature, and Translation Studies and is the co-founder and editor of the Chinese Literature Today magazine and book series (University of Oklahoma Press) and the “21st Century North American-Chinese Literature Research and Translation Series” (21世纪北美中国文学研究著译丛书) published by China’s Academy of Social Sciences Press. His books include Poetics of Emptiness (Fordham University Press), Grotto Heaven (Chax Press), Yingelishi (Counterpath Press), Winter Sun: The Poetry of Shi Zhi (Oklahoma University Press), and he is an editor of The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (Fordham UP). Stalling’s opera Yingelishi (吟歌丽诗) was performed at Yunnan University in 2010, and Winter Sun is presently a finalist for the National Translation Award.