with thanks to Allison Berryhill for this inspiration on today’s Open Write at Ethical ELA: Look around the room. Let your eyes rest on an object. Let that be your first word. List a word associated with it, then another…keep going until you’re ready to stop and “poetically connect the brain’s chain of associations.”
My word list:
pitcher pour tea sweetness childhood sugar
I remember the pitcher in my grandmother’s hand, mid-pour tea flowing like memory me drinking deep of the sweetness a childhood steeped in dinner-stories Daddy saying Slide up to the table, Sugar.
The pitcher that sparked the associations. It’s just decor; didn’t consciously think, in the moment, about the milk glass creamer and sugar bowl being my grandmother’s.
I bought Sunday’s paper, first time in years. As in an actual paper paper. Saw it on the rack while checking out groceries, a giant headline about the state’s plans for moving forward with education in light of pandemic setbacks. As educators themselves (particularly those in the trenches in actual schools) are often the last to know, I thought perhaps I should read it…
Opened it up in the car only to have my attention captured by the comics.
How could I have forgotten?
All those childhood Sundays of sifting through the heftiness of sections and fliers to pull them out, that colorful layer beckoning amid the grayness of the world’s ponderous deeds and opinions.
The poring over every one, the laughter, the ink-smell… a preschool recollection of my grandmother showing me how to flatten Silly Putty over a panel to peel it up and find the image lifted, then stretching poor Charlie Brown’s round head every which way…understanding later, in school, what “newsprint” paper really was when blank sheets were distributed for drawing… often sketching pretty good replications of Snoopy and especially Woodstock in margins of random notebook pages… a fleeting recollection of two strips I cut out and taped to my bedroom door (one, I think, was Shoe and the other eludes me now; I can only remember loving it for its hilarious rhyme).
All this in one nostalgic flash, just finding the funnies in my hands again after so long.
For just that moment, I am child again, and everything is all right.
*Update: Finally remembered the other strip taped to my bedroom door: The Briny Deep.
On Day Two of National Poetry Month, Emily Yamasaki offers this invitation for VerseLove at Ethical ELA: “There are some details that we hold in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Whether it was carved into our memory in joy or distress, they are always there. Join me in giving those core memories a space to live openly today.”
This is the kind of thing that can keep me writing for hours, days, years… I kept it simple, using the first things that rose to the surface, sticking somewhat close to Emily’s models.
random core memories
the cadence of my grandmother’s voice, reading fat pencils in kindergarten the smell of struck kitchen matches bacon grease kept in a canister by the stove having to throw myself against the stubborn front door of my childhood home, to get it open ironing my father’s uniforms the smell of his shoe polish the vaporizer sputtering in my room at night the rattling crescendo, decrescendo of cicadas saying it’s going to be all right without knowing how finding sharks’ teeth in the new gravel of an old country road lines from dialogues in my 7th grade French textbook soft-petal satin of new baby skin that one wonky piano key (is it D or E?) the mustiness of my grandparents’ tiny old church the weight of the study Bible in my hands seeing you for the first time, across the crowded room the cadence of our granddaughter’s voice, reading
A book my grandmother read to me, that I read with my granddaughter now. Is it any wonder that I find birds and nests so alluring? Early memories hold such latent power.
with thanks to Abigail, Betsy, and Soshi for the invitation to write on this topic for #verselove at Ethical ELA today (who’s not longing for summer right now?!).
Here’s why summer has such a special pull for me.
For Day Nineteen of National Poetry Month
Sunny afternoon blue sky bit of breeze faint sound of a radio from a neighbor’s yard I can’t discern the song it just sends me into reverie for a second conjuring hot sand under my bare feet Coppertone in my nose salt on my tongue If everybody had an ocean across the USA then everybody’d be surfin’ like Californ-i-ay… snatches of conversation cresting and dipping on the breeze mighty waves of memory crashing on the shore my father’s big black sandals flip-flopping to the old navy-blue Ford the battered brown Samsonite suitcase in his hand the ride is so long so long the city gives way to pastures, meadows horses fields that go on and on, forever plowed furrows running like long crazy legs to keep up with the Ford as we zoom past until at last the lonesome highway comes to a fork on the left, the tiny church where my ancestors sleep under stones we veer to the right turning onto the dirt road my heart beats faster Daddy drives slower stirring clouds of dust and I am already grabbing the door handle as Granddaddy’s lush garden comes into view with just a glimpse of Grandma’s white angel birdbath circled by orange marigolds through the laundry lazily flapping on the clothesline and there they are, walking across the green, green grass and I am out of the Ford before it’s hardly stopped and in their arms in the blinding sun as the forest stands tall all around with its cool dark mysteries where the rattling cicadas crescendo vibrating on and on and on through my soul I can’t discern the song it just carries me through eternity in this one bright second
It was hard for him to jump that high, with those short little legs.
“Kiss?” I would say.
And he would try. He’d jump for all he was worth, with joy.
He was my first dog. I named him Onyx. Onnie for short. He and his brother Bagel (named for Barry Manilow’s dog) were born across the street from my childhood home. Daddy said we could NOT have any of those puppies.
–We got them anyway. Onyx startled me the first time he jumped high enough to “kiss” me. Then he learned the command. It was his favorite way of greeting. It is his word.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 11, I am writing around a word beginning with letterk.
If there were a portal from Now to Then and I passed through where would I find myself what would I do
what would I see of my childhood me
raggedy white blanket satin trim pulling loose rub rub rubbing my silky string between my fingers and over my nose as I suck my thumb
Pa-Pa pumping a spinning top reds pinks blues swirling like rainbow smoke —it’s playing music! Like an organ —what is that song what is that song
I can play Grandma’s organ shiny pretty red-brown wood with curved legs she presses my fingers on the white keys — 5653 5653 that is Silent Night oh and I am supposed to be holding the white C button down
I can drive my little red car along the sidewalks in front of the shops by pumping pedals while Granddaddy watches from the bench
sometimes he calls me Duck or Pig
I do not know why
but it is good
Daddy’s buying a house I do not like the way it smells like old old coffee
except that a neighbor kid shows me that there’s a door in the side of the cement back steps when we open it an even older smell comes out past dangling cobwebs on strange cool air —there’s a game under here, in a box soft with forgottenness for so long pictures of ghosts mildewing on the top
a roly-poly scurries away in the dust
there’s a lot of kids to play with and we run and run and run and run around my new backyard
—oh no, Daddy’s going to be mad we snapped his little tree —here, help me hold these two parts together while we pray for God to glue them back
it didn’t work
but it’s not so bad
except for the little tree
Mama’s friends bring their skinny black dog named Thing yeah I know Thing on The Addams Family it’s just a hand in a box
Thing digs a hole in the backyard my sister and I make it bigger and bigger and bigger it’s a giant crater we pull out a giant smooth white rock maybe a dinosaur’s egg
I smell the clay, orange, gray feel its slickness between my fingers while we dig to the other side of the world China
Ding-dong, Avon calling look at all these tiny white tubes of lipsticks they smell so clean —can you believe there’s perfume in this bottle made like a tree —see when you take off the green top and push the bluebird’s tail it sprays
Bird of paradise bird of paradise my own made-up song I sing it in the tub while the white hunk of Ivory soap floats in the cloudy water
At Grandma’s house in the summertime I find a stack of old records I put them on the record player while I dig through a tall wicker basket of dresses fancy ones the pink one is satin covered with tulle but the blue one is my favorite with the rows and rows of lace on the skirt reaching almost to the floor when I put it on
I’m a princess
I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend if it makes you feel all right I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel all right ‘Cause I don’t care too much for money Money can’t buy me love
and when I am tired of that and when the long day is done I’ll sit by Grandma here in the floor where she spreads the newspaper open on the braided rug I’ll read the funnies or the The Mini Page or maybe even Reader’s Digest
Granddaddy comes over freshly-shaved, in his pajamas for me to hug his neck and give him a kiss on his smooth Old Spice cheek
while outside in summer dusk cicadas sing and sing and sing, so loud and never stop
now I lay me down to sleep my childhood loves to always keep
Magic find on Etsy: Vintage Avon spray bottle with Her Prettiness Enchanted Cologne Mist. Not so sure how enchanting the scent would be after all this time… that this still exists, however, is surely evidence of one powerful spell.
Thanks to Ruth Ayres on SOS: Magic in a Blog for the invitation to return to childhood loves, to linger there for a while, and to bring something back.
Thanks also to the Poetry Friday-ers and to Mary Lee for hosting this week’s Roundup.
Oh yeah and thanks to The Beatles for the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” — and all the others.
Someone I love just gave me this “Brew” cup and infuser ball along with loose black tea leaves mingled with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, milk chocolate curls, and calendula petals… what’s not to love? I am sipping liquid Autumn.
In my online writing voyage, I’ve just come to a new port of call—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
Those words, stories and magic, are all the passport I need to disembark and discover…
Today’s open invitation is writing about a favorite fall food, or one loved as a child.
My mind goes immediately to the breakfast cereal Count Chocula. I look for it at the beginning of every autumn now, but, if I recall correctly, it used to be available all year round when I was a child. I could be wrong. At any rate, I hadn’t seen it in decades when, maybe three years ago, it reappeared on grocery shelves as if by magic—poof! Voilà! —catapulting me, wide-eyed, open-jawed, straight back into childhood, to age 8? 9? 10?, hunkered over the cereal bowl, immersed in a book (for one cannot eat a bowl of cereal without a book, right? Isn’t it some unwritten law?). I wouldn’t stop at one bowl, see. Usually it was two. Maybe even three… suddenly my father is walking through the kitchen again, scowling: “First ketchup! You use way more than you should. Now this. Nobody needs to eat this much cereal…I’m buying three gallons of milk a week! For only two kids!”
What would he say if he could see how many boxes of Count Chocula I have, at this very moment, squirreled away my cabinet? Yikes!
Once this prompt got me walking around in Long Ago, savoring my Count Chocula, I began tasting other things… my mother’s peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses on top, slightly melted from the fresh-baked warmth. She made them when neighborhood kids gathered at our house to watch the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz on TV, in those pre-cable days. I think this was in fall… there was a chill outside. The grainy-crunch cookies with their soft-bottom chocolate caps, Dorothy, her comrades, her red ruby slippers (which I later went to see numerous times in the Smithsonian), dear Toto, Glinda in her iridescent bubble, the Emerald City, the music… all magic, all warmth… there’s no place like home in the living room with friends and family, taking a trip down the yellow brick road once a year.
I do not know why memory leads from that scene to school carnivals, the caramel apples and Crackerjacks that I did NOT like, the scent of hot buttery popcorn in the air, the delicious excitement of reaching my arm into a giant clown face with a cut-out mouth for a grab-bag full of little treasures…and onto Halloween, the shivery joy of putting on a costume and going out into the cold dark night with friends who looked funny, creepy, and spooky but never really scary, in a time and place where it was safe to go trick-or-treating from house to house to house…oh, and I never did like candy corn, although it’s pretty and fun to use as decorations, like for turkey beaks or tail feathers on tabletop arrangements at Thanksgiving.
My mother’s carrot cake.
Locally famous, the only carrot cake I’ve ever really liked. Everyone loved it. I have her recipe. I make it every Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. Her secret: carrots finely-grated to pulp and extra cinnamon.
—And there it is.
My favorite flavor of fall.
Cinnamon isn’t exactly a food in itself, but to me, it’s the essence of celebration in my mother’s cake, the aromatic allure of my new autumn spice latte tea, the crowning glory of hot apple cider, the thing behind my longing for pumpkin spice coffee at the first hint of coolness in the air, just as reds and golds begin tinging the leaves… interesting, isn’t it, this tree-connection. Cinnamon is, after all, bark. The dying of the leaves, the dying of the year, going out in a blaze of glory, cinnamon their royal embalming spice, rich, fragrant, preserving like memory, like immortality, like being a child at home, face pressed again the window soon to reflect candlelight, the holiness in holidays, flickering bright with hope and promise when the days grow short and dark…
My best-loved taste of fall.
Well, and Count Chocula.
I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic
A friend sent me this photo after my recent pareidolia poem to a face in a cloud – pareidolia being the misperception of a stimulus as some familiar object, pattern, or meaning. It’s a normal phenomenon. The human brain’s visual system has a specialized mechanism for face recognition: the fusiform face area. We see, we interpret, we strive to make meaning, in more ways than we ever realize…
So: Do you see the wolf in this wood panel?
Imagine, then, seeing it in your house as a small child, every time you enter your bedroom…seems there could be a lesson here about our worst monsters existing only in our minds, but today the wolf has demanded a poem.
Far be it from me to argue…
Don’t really feel like playing Not sure I should be saying In case it hears me Because it skeers me That wolf beside my door. Don’t want to go to bed If a hundred times it’s said It’s waiting in the dark there To snarl and bite and bark there That wolf beside my door. What will it do as I go past? Even if I try it super fast? No one else knows why I sit in the floor and cry Except the wolf beside my door. Please, I want to say, Won’t you just go away? If you will let me rest I’ll do my very best Oh Wolf—give me my door! I hear his wild laughter Ringing ever after “Tell me, then, what for? You’re not a child any more,” Said the wolf who’s at my door.
With thanks to my friend for the photo and the idea, and to Two Writing Teachers for providing a word-playground for a Slice of Life to run and be free.