April 2018

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NL #19: Where I'm From

NL #18: My friend Miss Marion says that my writing is getting increasingly Southern. Not a surprise. Right after brain surgery, friends said that my Southern accent got much stronger (maybe that was because my parents were there or maybe the doctors triggered something in my brainstem.) When I returned home after surgery, I craved the foods of my childhood: spaghetti (my first word), “pineapple delight” (a kind of green Jell-o fruit, nut and marshmallow concoction), a banana and mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder Bread and chocolate milk. After radiation, I craved banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, only we don’t have that tasty Wonder Bread, so I have to make do with a flaxseed muffin, which doesn’t squeeze into a tasty dough ball like Wonder Bread does, but it’s adequate.

I find that for most people in the Northwest, the South is an unknown and uninteresting collection of red states, bigotry, and chauvinism. While there is some truth to the stereotype, the area is of course much more complex than that.

My final year of teaching, I opened the year teaching freshmen a unit on reading and writing poetry. I borrowed heavily from Linda Christenson’s excellent book, Reading, Writing and Rising Up, and we studied George Lyons’ poem “Where I’m From,” using this poem as a model to write our own. As usual, I wrote with the students, modeling my process and, in this instance, seeking their input for my revision. In the flurry of cleaning out my classroom before my brain surgery, I lost that poem, but I’ve written a similar one below.

In the poem I wrote for that class, I attempted to articulate something more complex about the South for this group of students, most of whom had never been to the Southern United States but many of whom had grown up in places in Africa and Latin America and knew plenty about stereotypes of homes they have left. Students helped me revise that first poem, so it was much better than this one.

Here and There

Grits and fried chicken, pulled pork barbeque sandwiches, fried okra—
Fried anything really:
The foods of my childhood.
White steepled churches in every block,
A white and a black part of town,
The A & P and Piggly Wiggly:
The images of my childhood.

“Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir” and “I’d know you anywhere.”
“Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?”
White sandy beaches, hot enough in summer to blister my feet and
Rolling mountains painted swaths of autumn greens, reds and golds.
Winter snows on Christmas lawn displays,
Spring’s blooming dogwoods and daffodils,
Summer thunderstorms, electric over the graying ocean.

“Amazing Grace,” “Over the River and Through the Woods, to Grandmother’s House We Go,”
And “In My Mind, I’ve Gone to Carolina”:
The music of my youth.

Here in Seattle, my second home,
We eat tofu and organic greens,
Ride our bikes miles to our church,
Shop at the Pike Place Market,
Nod our heads to say hello.

A season of wet and
A season of dry,
Tulips and crocuses drooping in the rain.
Christmas trees frocked with the white of real snow,
Still growing in the winter woods.

Tourists clog downtown sidewalks, studying their maps,
They ride the elevator to the top of the Space Needle
And ride the Ducks, two layered amphibious carts,
Around town, blowing their kazoos.

Here and There I sing,
“What a Wonderful World.”

1 comment:

  1. Mary, I like your poem for many reasons but mainly because grits is the first word. I haven't found grits in Paris yet but I did find kind of pimento cheese yesterday at a market. It was a happy moment for me. Have you ever had pimento cheese in your grits? It's yummy.


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