Kevin Young, "Colostrum"

I'll start with Young's electric first sentence, "We are not born / with tears."

Kevin Young, "Colostrum"

I want to thank you for your readership. Many of you have sent words of encouragement to me and explained how much this little blog means to you. I really can't ask for much more.

Also, I'm going to start tagging myself as "frog detective superfan." I played the Frog Detective series this holiday and it was an absolute blast. Reviews say the games are "sweet" and have a lot of "heart," but I'd like to add my two cents. The games are interactive storybooks where you conduct extended conversations with a number of wacky characters. There's an abundance of cartoon lobsters, sloths, and koalas with recognizable personalities. They ask you for things, and you get them what they want. Strangely, their silly requests turn out to be an exercise in building empathy. Also the soundtrack is incredible.

Kevin Young, "Colostrum"

I'll start with Young's electric first sentence, "We are not born / with tears." It's a simple statement of fact which devastates through the power of suggestion. Of course some people physiologically cannot cry and it may not be a huge deal for them.

However, we've got two questions for the sake of this reading. Can you imagine not being able to cry? If crying was so painful it was paralyzing?

We tend to believe, as a philosopher might say, that we possess mental states which demand expression. The means of expression can vary, but our state of mind–sad, frightened, anxious, needy, etc.–dictates them. But what if crying was impossible? A story about a parallel phenomenon is helpful here. I remember a scene from John Gardner's "Grendel," when Grendel realizes he's invincible to weapons. He's fighting with a soldier, the soldier hits him with a sword, it does nothing. Both combatants stop fighting for a long moment, bewildered by the situation. Then Grendel mauls the soldier.

Kevin Young

We are not born
with tears. Your

first dozen cries
are dry.

It takes some time
for the world to arrive

and salt the eyes.

You could say an ability allows the "mental states" to exist in the first place. The faculty creates the conditions for its exercise. It does seem that if we knew we couldn't hurt someone, we wouldn't even try. Crying, however, feels like a different story. We might know a grief of far greater magnitude if we couldn't cry. Consider the second sentence of "Colostrum," another statement of fact. "Your / first dozen cries / are dry." All of us go through what might be extreme pain to express ourselves, and we have no recollection of this. There's a suggestion that the struggle or inability to react–the character of the reaction may be unknowable–is more pain than pain itself.

In the end, the illusion we're staring down is that we can completely control our reactions. We can't, and moreover, their very possibility constitutes us in some sense. This leads into the final sentence of the poem. "It takes some time / for the world to arrive / and salt the eyes." It's a majestic line, speaking to how our infant selves receive, in a way, the whole of the world at once. It points at our experience having a certain shape; your fears, irritations, and needs aren't actually optional. They constitute us. They're how the world can salt the eyes. By this logic, you're not looking for a panacea unless it is pressing. You're looking for how you're continuing to let the world arrive.