Ear­li­er this week, poet Mol­ly Pea­cock reflect­ed on her upbring­ing in a Jew­ish neigh­bor­hood as an Irish Protes­tant. With the release of her col­lec­tion The Ana­lyst this week, Mol­ly is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

By New Year’s week of 1982 I have become an inde­pen­dent, divorced, goy­ishe young woman of 31. I am about to tell my ana­lyst Joan Stein the sto­ry of the boy who picked up the mop. I live in a tiny stu­dio apart­ment on the Upper East Side of Man­hat­tan; her office is in her home, a one-bed­room apart­ment in a com­fort­able build­ing on the Upper West Side, near Zabar’s. Wak­ing up from dreams where my father has vapor­ized into tox­ic smoke that seeps beneath my apart­ment door, I schlep through the city slush and at last show up in her office. We begin each ses­sion sit­ting across from one anoth­er: I tell her about the poems I’ve got­ten pub­lished and wait for her to beam her famous smile of approval. Dark-haired, high-cheek­boned, she out­lines that smile in clear, direct red lipstick.

Then, as I swing my feet onto the couch and lie down, she switch­es to the chair at the far end just behind my head. Now the analy­sis begins. Reliv­ing the half-dream of the seep­ing tox­ic smoke of my father, I real­ize I hope always to keep my wits about me, always to be ready to scram­ble across a room and pick up a mop and fake my way to safe­ty. That’s when I tell about the boy. A tal­is­man I’ve latched onto. She doesn’t dis­cuss whether I’ve appro­pri­at­ed a trag­ic sto­ry for my less-than-trag­ic life. She doesn’t tell me to embrace an Irish myth because I have no right to inter­nal­ize a sto­ry from the Holo­caust. Joan doesn’t remind me that my father didn’t kill me. (I always put those knives away.) Or that I escaped from my fam­i­ly. She doesn’t remind me that I over­came the fear of claim­ing myself as a poet (with her help). Instead, she waits. And waits.

When I final­ly burst into the tears I always seem to save for the end of a ses­sion, just when I have to leave in a disheveled mess, she speaks. Just a lit­tle bit. Remind­ing me of my habit of hyper-vig­i­lance, some­thing I shared with some of my ele­men­tary school class­mates who were chil­dren of survivors.

Years lat­er, after her stroke, and after she is forced to close her prac­tice, I learn about Joan’s own father, an attor­ney, who died when she was sev­en­teen. He had encour­aged her to take inde­pen­dent paint­ing lessons. He and her moth­er sent her to a spe­cial art sum­mer school. She was deter­mined to become a painter. A neigh­bor helped her to apply to Rad­cliffe, and the bright, elec­tric Joanie Work­man, as she was called then, was accept­ed. She entered Rad­cliffe in 1953, and the Dean sent her to study with T. Lux Feininger, the son of the mod­ernist painter Lyonel Feininger. Raised in the tra­di­tion of Bauhaus paint­ing, T. Lux Feininger embraced abstrac­tion. Although he and his fam­i­ly fled the Nazis to set­tle in New York, he enlist­ed in the Unit­ed States Army and fought in Europe. Trau­ma­tized, he returned to New York, and after see­ing a ther­a­pist him­self, moved to Boston and his job at Har­vard. When bright, 17-year-old Joanie Work­man appeared in class, he was not inter­est­ed in her mourn­ful paint­ings of the father she had just lost. T. Lux was deter­mined that the T‑square, and not the organ­ic, messy shapes of life, the ones he had suf­fered, should rule post-war art. Joan Stein recalls his cri­tique of her por­traits of her father as exco­ri­at­ing.” That’s how it felt to the girl whose father had left a great hole in her life even as bombs had burst holes in her professor’s life.

…your Rad­cliffe pro­fes­sor taught:/ all draw­ing is thought,” I write in the sec­ond poem in The Ana­lyst, To you, abstrac­tion was lying./ All you did was draw your father failing,/then dying…”

What did she do after the exco­ri­at­ing” cri­tique? She turned on her heel and left the class. Nev­er went back. Declared a Psy­chol­o­gy major. Grad­u­at­ed ear­ly to mar­ry. Moved to Seat­tle. Had two sons. Did grad­u­ate work at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. Divorced. Moved to New York City. Nev­er picked up a brush for twen­ty-five years.

…brush­es you exchanged for words
draw­ing from what you heard,
the lines of your patients’ inner lives…

Mol­ly Pea­cock is the author of six pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions of poet­ry, includ­ing The Sec­ond Blush and Cor­nu­copia: New and Select­ed Poems. Her poems are includ­ed in The Oxford Book of Amer­i­can Poet­ry and appear in lead­ing lit­er­ary jour­nals inter­na­tion­al­ly. Pres­i­dent Emeri­ta of the Poet­ry Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, she co-cre­at­ed Poet­ry in Motion, a pro­gram of plac­ards on sub­ways and bus­es. Award­ed fel­low­ships from the Ingram Mer­rill, Woodrow Wil­son, and Leon Levy Foun­da­tions, the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts, and the Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts, Pea­cock is also author of a biog­ra­phy, The Paper Gar­den: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, and a mem­oir, Par­adise, Piece by Piece. She is based in Toron­to and New York.