Back in October, our assignment was to write a poem exploring our identity, using a framework Ed Bok Lee gave us. For a refresher, you can click here.
Scott, Ken, and I worked on the prompt too, of course, and we wanted to share those drafts with you here. I think each of us found something unexpected in the process, and we hope you will too. -Marcia
CHILDHOOD MISSISSIPPI, LATE 40’s
You bring out the funky black-eyed peas in me
with bacon and a splash of vinegar
The fried chicken on Sunday after church
as only my father could cook it
The fried okra dusted with cornmeal
the grits, the sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Oh, Vardaman, the sweet potato
capital of the world!
You bring out my father’s garden in me
that grew leafy and strong and plump and ripe
him standing among his peach trees
singing in his deep bass
You bring out Aunt Grace’s lemon ice box pie in me
watermelon dripping down my chin
home-made ice cream
churned in that wooden bucket
And then church again and the women
singing high and a cappella
The sweetness of honeysuckle
outside my bedroom window as I said my prayers
and my mother read to me
And then the fireflies. And the whippoorwills
all through the night
YOU BRING OUT THE CREW-CUT WHITE KID IN ME
You bring out the crew-cut white kid in me,
the crew sox & blue bumper tennis shoes in me–
with my just-enough-to-comb-on-top raked quickly back with a shot of Vitalis,
my neck scrubbed nails trimmed teeth brushed,
my Madras sport shirt tucked into clean Lee jeans and out the door,
out of the gray haze of cigarette smoke cooling bacon grease re-warmed coffee mildewed basement
shower into the clear light of day,
drawn forward by the beacon of Sister Elizabeth B. Kenny Elementary School,
that bright hygienic castle, built from bricks & blocks as numerous and clean and interlocking
as all those rules that I understood, all those words I could spell and define, all those numbers on which I
could operate skillfully,
all those pieces of a game set up for me to win without much sweat or pain,
without much thought of those who were not, would never be winning.
School, you bring out the crew-cut white kid in me.
You bring out the crew-cut white kid in me,
the screen door slamming & the “What’s for dinner, Mom?” in me–
hoping meatloaf, with a carmelized ketchup crust,
or chicken pan-fried in Crisco, warm grease wicking into paper towels on the counter, potatoes chuckling
in their murky Revereware & ready for mashing,
even stovetop Creamettes and Cheese Whiz on an off-night, looking like bright orange Elmer’s glue
but not too bad with a hot dog and sweet pickles on the flowered Melmac plate,
hoping for any of those, and not their opposite:
breakfast dishes sunk in the sink, Mom sunk in bed lights off Dad home late
with takeout chow mein to coax us all into feeling normal again, without needing to talk about
any of it all over again.
Dinner, you bring out the crew-cut white kid in me.
YOU BRING OUT THE IDEA WOMAN IN ME
You bring out the idea woman in me
the maroon quilt with faded pastel flowers, ripped from years of use in me
the lackadaisical hiker in me
the sort of runner in me
the scent of my mom’s hair goop on Sunday mornings in me
Dad’s dusty newspapers in stacks all over the house in me
the rich apology
for spilling the zucchini bread dough in me.
I would make my mother’s stone buhr bread
but it would never last long enough in our freezer
so I make cookies instead.
You bring out the daughter in me
the baker of food my family loved
the pleaser of palates in me
the descendant of coal miners and Greek immigrants in me
the middle child in me
the connectedness in me
With you I walk in the valleys of maples
in October, sharing the fiery leaves, and with you
I keep going on the path I started.
You bring out the looking for God in me
The faithful doubter in me
the liberal Christian in me
The conservative hymn-lover in me
The classical music and poet’s almanac in me
The French horn and trombone and marimba in me
Strong voice, alto or soprano or something
Sweet husband. My forbidden lover.
You bring out the glutton in me.
The taster of every beer in me.
The complicit chuckler on smelly couches in me
The part-time cusser in me
The lover of dogs,
Outdoorswoman in me.
When we read the paper in the mornings
and talk about the most recent bloodshed or debt
you bring out the justice in me.
The blank pages in me
and the full ones.
The mourning sister in me
The liberated noisemaker in me
Love, we’ve missed each other all week,
talking in phrases and hugs.
Waiting for each other to get home or dreading the leaving.
Let me love you the way
only an idea woman can.