In this episode we have an extended discussion about the film Hustle & Flow. We also talk about Valentine’s Day, The Station Agent, The Bachelor, Celebrity Mole. And a little about our kids.
I tried to mashup a couple facebook posts my cousin and I traded after a meetup a couple months ago. I thought it could be cut into a sort of conversation poem. The beginning sounds to me like we’re gearing up to sing a duet on a 70’s variety show. But I like where it ends up.
So good to see cousin Kari and her kids last night. Summers spent with her and her brother Brandin at Granddad Sears’s place in the southeast Kansas boonies are highlights of my childhood memories.
Matt, you nailed it. I’ve tried to express what was special about that place, and this is it exactly. It was not just the place but the people, and not just the people but also the place.
In hindsight, those nights spent in the tent or lean-to, my cousins, my brother, and me, with the coyotes roaming around us, or at least across the road, were some of my first experiences with a world bigger than Dickinson County, Kansas.
For this metropolitan cousin it was a wonderland, and my cousins were different from us, but also so much the same.
Stories from my cousins of a Seattle school with hundreds and hundreds of students.
The coyotes, the TV antenna.
This game soccer, which was played competitively for a whole season, not just a few days in P.E.
The inevitable ticks that just weren’t a big deal,
Their dad, my uncle, the Vulcan who took his face off at night.
Sending grasshoppers into space on bottle rockets (“First grasshopper in space!!!”)
We’d while away the night figuring out what the first though third base really equated to on a date. (This long before I had ever rounded first.)
the “rockety road.”
And the horrible, long and pointless jokes whose punch lines became as funny (to us) alone as they did attached to the jokes.
The fishing pond,
the Aqua Velva granddad.
Highlights of my childhood memories.
Not just the place but the people, and not just the people but also the place.
When swimming in a sea of scooters
It’s important to catch the best wave
Ok, right after this guy in the blue helmet (we try to swim together) we go
Slow and steady keeping an eye on the current as they swim by before us and behind
All beeping as they pass
Surrounding us as we drift carefully through the school
Singles, doubles, and triples.
The rare quadruple—Against our best judgement we pause to stare and smile
Our feet touch the curb
We come ashore
Safe for now
(Look both ways before you cross the sidewalk, we joke)
We walk a bit more, catch our breath, check the map
And dive in again
* photo from saigon-online.net
When my mom asked me, “Where’s the poem?”
“Oh,” she said. “I like my poems to rhyme.”
“Your English teacher did you a disservice,”
“Probably so. Probably so.”
See to me, that’s not a bad little poem right there, accidental though it may be. (When I realized that I did edit it just a bit.)
As an English teacher, I heard my mom’s viewpoint a lot. How can it be a poem if it doesn’t rhyme. The short answer is, of course, there’s a lot more to a poem than rhyming. What’s even more difficult than appreciating free verse is writing it. Here’s the craft box–make something. Little kids and the uninhibited will dive right in. The rest of us, especially teenagers who are terrified of taking chances, doing the wrong thing, and looking dumb, freeze up. And we (English teachers) get this:
I had a dog
He ate a frog
Fell off a log
And found a cog
I found, both for myself and my students, that a little structure can go a long way in both thawing out some of that fear and building confidence. One of my favorites for this is the triolet. It’s a simple little form from the 16th century. And while any good poem takes some effort, I’ve found that many of my students surprise themselves with this form. It’s easy to write something cute and fun if not deep and profound. This is the lesson that I use with my kids.
And so, for my parents, and all those who grew up with the regular rhythm and rhyme of the fireside poets, I offer this compromise–something between free verse and Longfellow–my poem “I had one criteria when Linda asked” rewritten as a triolet.
When we went on our blind date
I chose the man who’s tall
Be it luck, or god, or fate
When we went on our blind date
His name was Bill or Sam or Nate
I wondered if he’d call
When we went on our blind date
I chose the man who’s tall
This poem was inspired and modeled after this poem by my friend Angie. Sometimes we hear directly from God, and sometimes God speaks through the people we know, like our sorority sisters, for example.
I had one criteria when Linda asked.
“Which one do you want, Elaine, for the blind date?”
“I want the tall one. I’m tired of these short guys,” I said.
He was 6-foot-4 and his name was Bill, which for some reason I couldn’t remember. He says every time I asked him his name he gave a different one.
I don’t remember that. But I do remember he called me for a second.
I don’t know whose poem this is. I don’t think it’s mine. But I found it in my google drive. It might be by my friend Angie. Maybe one of my students wrote it. Anyway, I liked it enough to save it.
Out past curfew
Driving without a licence
all blowed up
weekend get away
making it up
keep the family together
keeping the family together
This is kind of a cheat. It’s a word for word repeat of a previous post from not long ago. In reading that post a week or so after writing it, I noticed that it was kind of poetic. So I rearranged it that way. And here it is.
You really don’t have to have much artistic skill
or deep philosophy
to create something kind of sweet
Sometimes it just takes a box of crayons
and something else
that you’re really not that interested in.
Like an literature assignment.
Some childhood memories stay with you, as clear as they day they happened. But the meaning of those memories changes I think.
partly from the morning sun
partly in fear.
One of the last through the doors,
cold heavy steel pushes against my bare arms
A wave of ammonia hits me in the face as soon as I step in,
mingled with the odors of sweat, vomit, loneliness and death,
they drive through my nose and mouth, up my eyes, through my forehead,
and into the section of my brain programed for fight or flight.
A howl scream moan comes from somewhere inside.
I hesitate in the doorway.
My Sunday school teacher bumps into me and
gently pushes me into the entryway.
The other kids have formed a line.
Last in, I find myself at the end,
Children sing while I scan the room.
Three grandmothers sit near us,
smiling, keeping time with their heads and feet.
Others, further back, sit, staring at nothing.
Wandering zombies complete the picture.
One closes in from the left.
Slowly spinning, her wheelchair describing a large arc,
propelled by one tenacious foot, the only part of her that seems to live.
As she eases past I catch her eye.
Her head tilted, translucent sagging skin melts off her face
and mingles with the line of spit dangling from her open mouth.
As her eyes meet mine, she greets me. “Aarrrrrrghhhhhhh.”
Does her foot pause as she passes me? Her chair slow?
I look away, pretend to sing,
stare at the back of the room, at nothing,
wait for this to end, and
try not to breath
in the loneliness.
I remember working on this one with my students. They didn’t care for this assignment, and I didn’t either. The idea was to create an illogical world, a world where anything could happen, a world where nothing made sense. It was hard. We all felt like what we were writing was horrible. Then we took our illogical world, and we examined it. Changing it as little as possible, or none if possible, we found the logic in it. We found the truth. Then we put it through a couple more drafts, cutting, always cutting with poetry, and finally made it look like a poem.
Someday I’ll be big enough
“I can’t hold this thing up forever,” Dad says,
already losing his grip on the moon,
his fingers digging deeper into the dust,
searching for a hold.
“I almost have it,” the boy says.
“There it is.” The boy grasps a purple plastic case.
The makeup inside rattles,
causing clouds to gather and a thunderstorm to begin to form,
rumbling around his waist.
“What were you doing with your sister’s makeup anyway?” the father asks,
gently putting the moon back in place.
He claps his hands and
wipes them on his pants.
The dust falls, filling in a small lake.
“Someday I’ll be big enough to touch the moon.”
The boy clutches the box to his chest,
hops on a passing cloud and calls,
“Sissy! I found it.”
As he rides the cloud
he smells the rain coming,
the smell of clean and dirty mixed together
makes him grin.
His sister appears tiptoeing
along a ridge of mountains.
Her little feet crush aspen and pine,
and send boulders crashing down the slopes.
She snatches a handful of the broken trees and
pops them into her mouth.
The taste of pine and squirrel,
bluebird and spiders,
and a hundred other natural things
tickle her tongue.
“Sorry I lost it,” he says.
His sister stops, grins,
takes the box from her brother,
and playfully knocks him off his cloud.
Some of these old poems that I had forgotten writing, I’m not crazy about. This one I like quite a bit. Partly I like it because of the memories it evokes of these evening games long past, and also the hinted at idea of the blurred line between fun and fear.
The sun goes down early in the fall,
burning leaves and cool
Autumn bite in the air.
We sit on the front porch
and one, two, three, not it!
our voices echo down the dark street.
The loser, now a gray wolf
lopes into the wild
behind the house, away from the streetlights.
Hidden, he howls.
His shriek carries through the neighborhood
to the rest of us, three or four kids, hunters.
into the wild to find a wolf
before he finds us.
Silent minutes pass
as the the sky darkens.
Finally I approach the old garage,
crouched behind the house,
its gaping mouth open, forbidding,
darkness. I smell the burning leaves
again and reach for a dirty pitchfork
that leans against the wall.
I grip the rough wooden handle,
and peer into the gloom.
Silence. Then creaks
The wind? Or something
I inch into the unknown,
fork extended to fend off
might come at me
from the dark.