Core memories poem

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.

Memory poem: Pier

For Day Three of a five-day Open Write Challenge on the Ethical ELA blog, Margaret Simon invites memory poem writing. See her glorious sensory poem and one penned by her second-grade student, as well as other offerings and the inspiring “mystery of memory” mentor-poem from Nikki Grimes, here.

Today’s poem challenge begins with the word Think, followed by a word linked to childhood associations and evocative detail. Grimes’ poem begins with Think food and leads to her grandmother’s pineapple upside-down cake and food being “so much more” than nourishment. Margaret’s poem begins with Think dirt and brings the reader into a very real moment of making mudpies (you can feel and smell it) and the deeper context within.

Memoir is probably my favorite type of writing; it is a chance to stand once more in your childhood shoes, experiencing the world just as you did, only framed by knowledge gained since. I had to think a while before an image came to mind foe this memory poem. Then I had to think a while longer about what it meant …

Here’s “Pier.”

Think pier
and danger comes to mind.
Weathered gray boards
armed with splinters
meant for tender young feet
encased in sneakers
that Grandma made me wear.
Sneakers stepping deliberately
from slat to solid slat
avoiding intervals of nothingness
where water laps dark and green
below, moving and moving
until it seems the whole pier
is floating out to sea
with me.
Summer sun beating down
casting our squatty silhouettes
on grainy gray wood-canvas.
Grandma’s sunhat fluttering
in the river’s breath
brine in my nose, my mouth
endless expanse of silver-green water
glinting, beckoning,
reckoning—
there are no rails.
There are nails.
Tie the string to the raw chicken neck
toss it over—plop
and wait.
Let the nail-anchored string
rest on your fingers
until it moves with strange little jerks
then pull so so slowly
so carefully.
Use both hands but
have your net ready
for the greedy green-brown crab
with fierce orange ‘pinchers’
—keep your fingers away!—
and legs painted bright watercolor blue
soon scuttling around in
Grandma’s galvanized tub.
Think pier
and she’s right there again
between me and danger
showing me how to navigate.

Photo: Pier. Richmond AACA. CC-BY. Cropped and converted to black-and-white. The pier of my long-ago childhood memory is so like this one.