Tag Archives: family

Thanksgiving

This poem fits right into the true feel of what it is like to gather with family members and is a great portrait of several different personalities and characters. There is so much of it that feels southern yet the story is set in Connecticut. It just shows you how connected we all are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving                                                                                                Martín Espada

This was the first Thanksgiving with my wife’s family,
sitting at the stained pine table in the dining room.
The wood stove coughed during her mother’s prayer:
Amen and the gravy boat bobbing over fresh linen.
Her father stared into the mashed potatoes
and saw a white battleship floating in the gravy.
Still staring at the mashed potatoes, he began a soliloquy
about the new Navy missiles fired across miles of ocean,
how they could jump into the smokestack of a battleship.
“Now in Korea,” he said, “I was a gunner and the people there
ate kimch’i and it really stinks.” Mother complained that no one
was eating the creamed onions. “Eat, Daddy.” The creamed onions
look like eyeballs, I thought, and then said, “I wish I had missiles
like that.” Daddy laughed a 1950s horror-movie mad-scientist laugh,
and told me he didn’t have a missile, but he had his own cannon.
“Daddy, eat the candied yams,” Mother hissed, as if he were
a liquored CIA spy telling secrets about military hardware
to some Puerto Rican janitor he met in a bar. “I’m a toolmaker.
I made the cannon myself,” he announced, and left the table.
“Daddy’s family has been here in the Connecticut Valley since 1680,”
Mother said. “There were Indians here once, but they left.”
When I started dating her daughter, Mother called me a half-Black,
But now she spooned candied yams on my plate. I nibbled
at the candied yams. I remembered my own Thanksgivings
in the Bronx, turkey with arroz y habichuelas and plátanos,
and countless cousins swaying to bugalú on the record player
or roaring at my grandmother’s Spanish punch lines in the kitchen,
the glowing of her cigarette like a firefly lost in the city. For years
I thought everyone ate rice and beans with turkey at Thanksgiving.
Daddy returned to the table with a cannon, steering the black
steel barrel. “Does that cannon go boom?” I asked. “I fire it
in the backyard at the tombstones,” he said. “That cemetery bought
up all our farmland during the Depression. Now we only have
the house.” He stared and said nothing, then glanced up suddenly,
like a ghost had tickled his ear. “Want to see me fire it?” he grinned.
“Daddy, fire the cannon after dessert,” Mother said. “If I fire
the cannon, I have to take out the cannonballs first,” he told me.
He tilted the cannon downward, and cannonballs dropped
from the barrel, thudding on the floor and rolling across
the brown braided rug. Grandmother praised the turkey’s thighs,
said she would bring leftovers home to feed her Congo Gray parrot.
I walked with Daddy to the backyard, past the bullet holes
in the door and his pickup truck with the Confederate license plate.
He swiveled the cannon around to face the tombstones
on the other side of the backyard fence. “This way, if I hit anybody,
they’re already dead,” he declared. He stuffed half a charge
of gunpowder into the cannon, and lit the fuse. From the dining room,
Mother yelled, “Daddy, no!” Then the battlefield rumbled
under my feet. My head thundered. Smoke drifted over
the tombstones. Daddy laughed. And I thought: When the first
drunken Pilgrim dragged out the cannon at the first Thanksgiving-
that’s when the Indians left.

 

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The New Egypt

I often think about the things I must be doing without really thinking about whether it is what I want or not. That includes all the things I work at acquiring while following the insistent voice that screams “I want! I want!”

Whether we conform or rebel as we build our lives, we are part biological, cultural, and environmental beings subject to happenstance.

This lovely poem doesn’t waste a word, as a daughter tells her story. It’s packed full of punch and meaning. Enjoy it.

The New Egypt                                             Robin Becker

 

I think of my father who believes
A Jew can out-wit fate by owning land.
Slave to property now, I mow
and mow, my destiny the new Egypt.
From his father, the tailor, he learned not
to rent but to own; to borrow to buy.
To conform, I disguise myself and drag
the mower into the drive, where I ponder
the silky oil, the plastic casing, the choke.
From my father, I learned the dignity
of exile and the fire of acquisition,
not to live in places lightly, but to plant
the self like an orange tree in the desert
and irrigate, irrigate, irrigate.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

In this day and age of kitchen islands and open concept living, I wonder where the kitchen table has gone. The central spot of our lives might be the couch in front of the TV or the small phone screens we peer into like mirrors. This poem makes me hope for a world filled with more one to one connection and may all our last bites be sweet.

Perhaps the World Ends Here                                 Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

Mother Lets Off a Little Steam

This poem is a wild ride well worth a car trip. The life that is embedded in the story through the images and dialogue is wonderful. The mother and daughters are very familiar as well as the conflicts inherit to family and writing dilemmas. Enjoy!

Mother Lets Off a Little Steam                                              J. Allyn Rosser

I don’t know how I’m expected to get anything done

with these two constantly at odds, cranky sisters

in the backseat on a long ride to the wrong place.

Muse wants the Tunnel of Love on a roller coaster,

and to be spirited there on something more elegant

than a carpet. She’d better marry rich, is all I can say.

Truth wants a deserted rest area with a flat rock to sit on.

I’m not kidding. This is what she’d like the most.

A view of flat rock from a seat of flat rock.

There’s a scuffle. “Do I have to stop this car or what?”

But I’m going seventy, we’re late, it’s rush hour,

there’s no berm to stop on and they both know it.

Muse pops up in the rearview, rhinestone ruby shades

bouncing painful darts of light into the corner of my eye.

“I have to go again,” she hiccups. It’s a ruse.

She wants, as always, a new gewgaw, a rainbow slurpee,

or one of those impossible-to-lick seriously huge lollipops.

Her candy breath reaches and nearly sickens me.

Whereas Truth is so stolid, so smugly abstemious,

it makes you want to shake her hard, knock the wiser-than-

you-know gaze askew, disturb the pristine implacability

of those conspicuously ringless hands folded in her lap.

Placid as a cow in the shade on a hot day.

Oh I love them, you know, but on days like this—

Sit down,” Truth says, levelly. “Try and make me!”

In terms of strength you wouldn’t want to put your money

on Muse. Truth has always been a good eater,

fond of climbing outdoors. Built like a moose.

Her sister craves exotic sauces and chocolate,

and some weird combinations of tart and savory,

but try getting her to eat one pea. One grain of plain rice.

She’s slight in form but tricky, reckless, unpredictable,

and in certain situations this defeats Truth,

who simply has to be right about everything.

So in spite of her years and her methodical,

relentless scrutiny, she often misses the point.

Meanwhile her sister will just up and blurt something

that at first makes no sense, but then it turns out

to be astonishingly right, the more you think about it.

That’s what really ticks off Truth, when we say

“the more you think about it.” Her eyes narrow

and her face just sort of shuts down. You pity her then.

She likes her facts neatly stacked on the table.

Muse shrugs a lot, changes sides like a fish,

isn’t fazed by paradox. I think she thrives on it.

“Sit,” Truth says again, “DOWN.” “Why should I,

you’re jealous because I’m taller than you.”

“You are not,” “Am too.” “Are not.” “My head

almost touches when I stand but you have to stoop,

so I’m taller.” “No way,” “My eyes are higher. See?”

There is a muffled thump. “Don’t make me stop this car,”

I say stupidly, but else can I do? Muse snickers,

Truth snorts softly. I can’t help it, I keep going,

“I’m never taking the two of you with me anywhere

ever again!” “Okay,” says Truth. “Fine with me,”

Muse sings out. Now they’re in league I can’t win.

They know perfectly well that without Muse there is no vehicle

without Truth no road.

The Secret life of Barbie and Mr. Potato Head

It’s hard to believe Barbie and Mr. Potato Head would get it on, but it’s not impossible!

The Secret life of Barbie and Mr. Potato Head                  Nin Andrews

 

It began the year Jane received her first Barbie, and Dick was given

Mr. Potato Head for Christmas. Jane loved Barbie. She especially loved

undressing Barbie. So did Mr. Potato Head. Soon Barbie and Mr. Potato

Head were slipping off alone to dark corners. The first time it happened

Jane’s mother was fixing a salad for supper: cottage cheese nestled on

a crisp bed of lettuce with canned pears on top. Barbie was nervously

popping her heard off and on. Jane, her mother called, would you please set

the table? That’s when Jane told her mother that Barbie was engaged to

marry Mr. Potato Head.

 

Of course even Jane knew Mr. Potato head was the perfect match

for Barbie. She was afraid her Barbie might be jealous of all the other

Barbies in her neighborhood who had acquired handsome Kens for

their husbands. But she soon realized her mother was right. Her mother

always said looks aren’t everything. Besides, Mr. Potato Head could make

Barbie laugh. And he could do a lot more things with his detachable nose

and pipe and ears when her mother wasn’t looking. He, unlike Ken, was

the kind of man who could change himself for a woman like Barbie.

No problem, Mr. Potato Head would say whenever Barbie requested yet

another body part.

Eavesdropping

You never know exactly what children are taking away from listening to adult conversations. I remember not wanting to go to bed as a young child in cause I was going to miss something exciting. In this piece we don’t hear the mother’s answer to the solution that is offered.

 

Eavesdropping                                                                      Michelle Boisseau

 

It was Mrs. Garvin, the doctor’s wife,

who told my mother, Well, if you’re that broke,

put the kids up for adoption.

Out under the porch light that summer,

we slapped at mosquitoes and invented

our brave escape-luminous sheets

knotted out the window

were the lines of a highway down the house.

We would know the way,

like ingenious animals, to go

quietly toward the river,

but we could imagine no further

than the shacks on stilts

shivering the water,

the Kentucky hills on the other side.

Denise, the youngest, took to sleepwalking,

wading room to room for the place

one of us-curled up in a bed’s corner-

might have left her. I’d wake

to her face pressed against my back,

her hands reining the edges of my nightgown.

I didn’t tuck her into my shoulder

but loosened her fingers and led her

back to her own bed, her fear

already seeping into me like water

or like the light spilling

from the milk truck

as it backfired down the street.

Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She’s 16

Little do we realize when we have children, that we will one day be changing ourselves to please them. Other people who think they are wise will project into the future and lay problems onto our relationships. They ask pesky questions. Who knows? Maybe the daughter will understand poetic license and freedom of speech. And, that a parent is a full being in their own right.

Then the poet warns the daughter that she will always be there watching that she takes care. And motherhood gets a lot darker than it seemed at first.

Great images and resonance, there is much to enjoy  and think about in this poem.

Because People Ask What My Daughter Will Think of My Poems When She’s 16

                                                                                     Beth Ann Fennelly

Daughter, the light of

the future is apricot,

and in it you are not

the thigh-child pointing

her earnest index finger

to the yellow balloon clearing

the willows and drifting

higher, you’re the balloon. I’m

the grasping hand. Or I’m

the oo in balloon. I’ll meet you

there. I’m the brown

strings, formerly violets, you

didn’t water. I’m the hole

in the photo, you’re the un-

safety scissors. I’m the lint

in the corners of my purse

after you steal the coins,

brown-bag lunch you pitch

after leaving my house, buttons

you undo after I’ve okayed

your blouse. Poems

you burn in the sink. Poems

that had to go and use

your name, never mind

that soon you’ll be 16, hate

your name. I’m the resemblance

you deny, fat ass

you hope your boyfriends

never see. I’ll meet you

there, that is my promise

and my threat, with this

yellow balloon as my

witness, even if I’m

dead, I’ll meet you there.

Cajun

This poem was well received in my classes. The story and the meaning is strong and clear. Appropriation is something we all think about whether we use that word or not for how we build identity. Enjoy and remember who your ancestors were and what they had to do to survive.

Cajun                                                                                     Sheryl St. Germain

 

I want to take the word back into my body, back

from the northern restaurants with their neon signs

announcing it like a whore. I want it to be private again,

I want to sink back into the swamps that are nothing

like these clean restaurants, the swamps

with their mud and jaws and eyes that float

below the surface, the mud and jaws and eyes

of food or death. I want to see my father’s father’s

hands again, scarred with a life of netting and trapping,

thick gunk of bayou under his fingernails,

staining his cuticles, I want to remember the pride he took

gutting and cleaning what he caught; his were nothing

like the soft hands and clipped fingernails that serve us

in these restaurants cemented in land, the restaurants nothing

like the house we lived and died in, anchored in water,

trembling with every wind and flood.

 

And what my father’s mother knew:

how to make alligator tail sweet, how to cut up

muscled squirrel or rabbit, or wild duck,

cook it till it was tender, spice it and mix it all up

with rice that soaked up the spice and game so that

it all filled your mouth, thick and sticky, tasting

like blood and cayenne. And when I see the signs

on the restaurants, Cajun food served here,

it’s like a fish knife ripping my belly, and when I see

them all eating the white meat of fat chickens

and market cuts of steak or fish someone else

has caught cooked cajun stye, I feel it

again, the word’s been stolen, like me,

gutted.

After the Accident

This poem is full of lovely images because they are painted specifically and succinctly. The poem builds as it moves from one thing to the next, the pay off as it concludes hits the heart. Don’t think the narrator doesn’t have choices, if you’ve missed her power take another look at the poem.

After the Accident                                                         Sue Ellen Thompson

the old rose-colored Buick turns in

past the rows of slush-covered cars

with webbed windshields and wrinkled doors.

My father steps out, unfolding himself

on the ice-slick asphalt with an old bird’s grace

and stands, hands at the back of his waist,

leaning against the sky. My mother,

buoyed along by her puffed blue coat,

is all scurry and search as she hurries

toward me through the glass door marked

“Service,” her arms already rising

from her sides. Swept up into

the car’s small warmth, I let myself

be taken to lunch, I let them order for me—

a cheeseburger in the golden arms

of mounded onion rings, a cookie the size

of my own spread palm

weighted with chocolate. I eat

and I eat, as if I’d been trapped

in that snow choked ravine for days,

as if food were love and I could absorb it,

turning it into flesh the way

they turned their love into me.

But seeing all that is left—a thinnish woman

in her forties without a car, without

even a purse, they must think

it is not enough. So they feed me and I

eat, and all that keeps me from an infant’s sleep

is who will carry me home when they are gone?

From the Shore

This poem has a wonderful perspective from the child’s view standing on the edge of the ocean. In every line, I was right there in the poem seeing and feeling it all.  It is also one of those poems that keeps on giving, it is one to read over and over.

From the Shore                                                                                 Denise Duhamel

Michele and I pull out our feet from the mud, and begin

to scream from a new spot. We think you are going to drown.

You won’t look back as you swim to the middle of the ocean.

“But Ma!” we call. Chills through our arms, down

through out legs as though we’ve been struck still by lightning

and no one will touch us. We’re afraid to touch each other.

If only we could jump out past our bodies, the small ones

you had to lift up when the waves came. Michele and I clung

to your sides and still mouthfuls of salt water.

Had we dragged mud from the sand castle to the blanket

or sung too loud or fought with each other? The foam

like thrown toys breaking at our feet, unsteadying us.

At sunset, the family beach mostly cleared,

a lady with red veins on her legs and a bathing suit with a skirt

stops to helps us. We point you out, the only mother

in the lineup, Your face, a small craft at the point where water

meets choppy sky. The lady says it’s about to rain

and starts yelling with us, demanding you get back on shore

to take care of your daughters. I know we’ve made a mistake

as you turn around and see Michele and me with this other adult.

All the ocean goes silent—the sea sounds, the gulls.

It’s like watching TV with the sound turned off.

You rise from the water like a wet monster and the lady,

in a rage, begins to yell and I guess you yell back:

my ears are murmuring a quiet that’s louder.

I vow never to tell on anyone again—if ever I see a kid hitting

another kid, if ever I see someone robbing a bank.

My whole body shakes, the sound inside a seashell.

You yank Michele’s arm and mine, saying,

“Can’t I have one Goddamn minute alone?”

You yank Michele’s arm and mine, saying,

“Can’t I have one Goddamn minute alone?”