Written March 2005 based on the poem Where I’m From by George Ella Lyons via Fragments from Floyd. Tweaked to shorten and update today.
(huuuuuuugely long and somewhat depressing but meh, another day, another crack at it with dawn instead of nightfall’s gathering darkness prevailing.)
I’m from a township no longer named on maps
Memory lane has been overgrown
the pavement cracked open by goldenrod
and moss that only seems to do nothing.
I am from savannas of sumac scrub brush,
the backcountry, the bedrock, where the fissures
are crying *finally spring*, where small operation
farmers complain that having topsoil is just cheating.
I’m from where the boys have mostly fled, become city men,
where the nutrient hungry earth sucks as eagerly the blood
from chainsaw kickback or what the oil pans dump. I am from
there, where those that dare remain receive lashes for staying
as a tree falls and brings them down, him a peg indenting this
thin sand, when a logging chain snaps, wraps the scraping bruise
iron links as a bear hug that cracks ribs, a greeting
that is merciful only in speed, merciful in not taking off
his head, merciful in its early warning to leave.
And I am from Auntie’s root cellar, its cool hardpacked floor,
the corral for the pyramid of potatoes, the burps of sump pump,
the toads peeing in hand, the rickety rows of plum preserves,
canned yellow beans, pickled watermelon rinds, indian relishes and jams.
From farm-armed reach at the table and starting a meal with prayer.
I’m from dang, dash, yeppers, hokey smokes, jaypers and “well, Land”.
I’m from free range chickens and home-slaughtered beef, milking
the goats and the cow and soowiiieeee throwing scraps to piggies,
From never scraping up enough cash for relief from the ground
but always having food to eat, and music and family. I am
200 km and a culture away from where I had been.
I am from my father’s “the past is dead
as it should be”, the imaginative mysteries to not speak of.
And I am from the slow creep of the doddering senile Old Man time
who likes to scare small children who were told he died.
I’m from this glistening listening facet of this moment
of this city’s sparkling cement, light on my feet. I sleep
and wake to canned beat of talk radio, drum Chakras and central heat
clicking in and out. I step from basking in steaming sunflower showerheads,
cash economy, vacations of red sand beaches of PEI. I am from
what I make of myself from — breaths, library books. I am from
my husband’s looks lost in mine, from ideas divided across the keyboards.
I am from and become the chances I took and take and press.
I am the internalization of the polestar, northern lights, high desert camping,
the feet on floor in circle dance after potlucks with dahl, lotus seed buns,
and tabouli of friends. I am victorious conversations in Spanish, Mandarin,
French. I am from day tripping Monmartre in cobble-stoned Paris. I am
from shifting the stones of my fence to weigh in closer to future than past.
I am plucked from the strings, not of harps, not of bows, not of aprons,
but banjos pulled from back rooms, spoons played from the drawers
and old bluegrass gospel tunes played from memory. I am from clothes
re-repatched, on sale at Salvation Army, and cleaning cloths that were panties
drying on the rail. I am from aunts that buy art, and cousins with oil wells.
I am from Sunday school fuzzy-backed Jesus stuck to a cloth scene. I am from
being told I was shy and hardworking and an odd bird. I am from overheard
stories. I am I’m from the planted memories of my parents that grew green,
overgrew me until I had to rip some out by the roots to have room
to design the garden to new tastes. I am from meditation. I am trusting anyway.
I am from the pluck of finger piano, the tap of drum skins, from smiles of recognition,
from jot and iota and jots a priori and from strawberries and sorrows, sparrows
and escapades that I later realized were narrow canyons that I shinnied down to
myself and I am the wisdom of taking the gondola back up. I am community.
I am from the sparkle of my parents eyes but as much the steady pools
of sureness of Hers, Susan, my mother’s mother, ever curious and accepting,
being herself who knew she is more than the slur that is Irish,
more than her own illiterate hardscrabble roots. I am from her.
She lived that not luck but hard work has everything
to do with success, the lady who taught herself to read,
once the 14 kids were grown, and she in her 70s
when it seemed the last weren’t going to leave home
so it was time for her to go on and get a hobby.
I am from her 200-strong clan, the results of her eloping
with her chosen man, opinions and laws be damned.
I am from her at 15, lying of her age, sneaking by buggy
with a female cousin to the next jurisdiction,
scheming, meeting, marrying cousin Ernest in the English Townships
of Quebec, them returning home wed, parents agape
with nothing more that can be said, husband proudly behind her,
she *his little red hen*.
I am of them. And I am of Saturday night euchre tables for men,
(sandwich making in the basement for women), us kids
running ragged until whiney or drooling in the coat pile
at the old Orange hall. I’m from the sudden hush from clatter
everything folded up before the stroke of midnight,
so all would be home for the Sabbath. I’m from services
in the morning and KFC on Sunday afternoons
with everyone and their hound dropping in Back Home to Granny’s.
I am faith and I am from being believed in. I am the dignity and indignities
of work. I am the culminative, calmative released hurt. I am my knees
that creak louder than larynx and I am dreams mixed with memories
and actions and I am listening for echoes of gramma’s encouragement
and her sigh and mine as I turn.