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.
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 …
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.