The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.

On Being Gentle

Love and MarriageAlexandra kingComment
alexandra king-lyles


I absentmindedly instagrammed this shop sign the other day. It had been a dismal morning full of those teeny, inexplicably annoying little road blocks, and the sign's underlying message spoke to me more profoundly than edging my way around the teacups, though, ever obliging, I did that too.

 Later that day, I was walking down 7th Avenue when I happened to glance at one of those freebie magazine dispensers that pop up on street corners every now and then in New York City- the ones that advertise deals on ham and bulk bought canola oil and dubious sounding martial arts classes. I noticed it because it was making an awful noise, a repetitive thump thump thump that didn't sound natural. I paused to look, and suddenly, staring back at me, was the most enormous bee/hornet/wasp monster insect that I have ever seen (seriously, this thing was the length of my little finger) trapped inside, flinging its furred, jagged torso at the glass, wings sunken with exhaustion, sting suspended in defiance, buzzing like a tractor trailer with fury. "Don't open it" said a kind but wary lady from the bar opposite, out on her cigarette break. I nodded. I didn't want to open it. I could just imagine the phone call to my poor husband, explaining to him that I had gone all David bloody Attenborough and the ambulance was on its way. I could imagine the hornet wanting to take revenge on my race given that it was probably an unkind human that had entrapped it in the first place. But, impulsive as I am, I listened to none of this, and, big deep breath in and out, pinced the handle of the box with two fingers and flung it open. The bee hot tailed it out, presumably to the giant and terrifying hive from whence it came. And you know what? I felt suddenly, raucously, childishly delighted. In fact, I could have sworn that bug gave me a wave. The bar lady gave me a high five.

Later, I remembered this poem, by Fleur Adcock, which has never failed to move me, speaking as it does of mothers and little ones and nature and and tenderness. Give it a read. And here's to being gently reminded of the importance of gentleness. A good good lesson.


For a Five-Year-Old

by Fleur Adcock

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another,
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.