Friday, January 24, 2014

Poetry Friday: I Open a Box

Writerly Friends, it's cold outside.

Come in out of the cold. There's
a poetry party going on at Tara's place!
Join the Poetry Friday blog roll
at A Teaching Life.

Photo: Times Union

All this talk about the Polar Vortex makes me think of this guy:


It is six degrees in Maryland right now. Last week we actually hit ONE. Not one degree below Fahrenheit. Just ONE. 

It's been a good time for writing, baking, making soup, and cleaning. I've got boxes of papers left unopened since we moved here 14 years ago. In one of them, I found a You Will Survive High School letter from the boyfriend who, many years later, became my husband. I found a card from my grandmother, who died in 2003. All my love for her floods back when I see her handwriting. 

The process of clearing out old letters, boxes, and photos makes a powerful writing prompt. It's the surprises to be found--a picture of a childhood friend, a Mother's Day drawing made by your young son (who's about to graduate from high school)--that make strong poems. Rediscovering forgotten objects can trigger memories and family stories, as one does in today's poem.

This week, I'm sharing Maria Mazziotti Gillan's poem "I Open a Box." It was recently published by the online journal Narrative Northeast.

I Open a Box

...and find inside a picture,
of myself as a child, sitting
on a small chair, wearing overalls
and shoes that must have been
hand-me-downs because they are
so worn the sole is coming loose.
I am no more than 18 months
old and cannot have been walking
all that long. I am squinting
into the sun, my nose crinkling
with effort the way it crinkles now
when I am trying to see in bright light.
Behind me, the six family tenement
where I was born on 5th Avenue
in Paterson, the rickety stairs rise up
three floors, the porches tilt a bit
as though they might fall off
if someone were to jump on them
too hard. My mother delivered
me herself in this coldwater flat.
The doctor didn't get to her in time...

Read the rest at Narrative Northeast.

Maria was my first serious poetry teacher. If you don't know her work, you are in for a journey. She is one of our country's most important writers on the immigrant experience.

Passaic Falls in Winter Paterson New Jersey
Postcard of Paterson, NJ at Card Cow.
William Carlos Williams wrote about
Paterson's Great Falls in his book, Paterson.

10 comments:

Margaret Simon said...

Funny, but we actually have a snow day today in South Louisiana. Maybe I should open a box and find a poem. Love this poem about childhood and memories and all that goes with them.

Buffy Silverman said...

Wonderful poem--love the trail from photograph to the story of birth and life.

jama said...

Love Maria's poem. I also have boxes of stuff that need unpacking -- hearing about the cool things you're finding makes me want to open a few boxes myself.

Tabatha said...

It sounds as though you found many treasures in your box! Will you be sharing some of the poems that result?

Mary Lee said...

Maria Mazziotti Gillan sounds like my next new poet!

LInda Baie said...

I saw this earlier when you shared it, Laura. It is a powerful message. My class & & studied immigration issues, past & current several years ago & traveled to NYC, which included a visit to the tenement museum, powerful for the students to see & experience the simulation they do. I will look for Maria Gillan's poetry wishing I'd had it sooner!

Linda said...

I love the way Maria's poems tell such a vivid story. I have her book Writing Poetry to Save Your Life. The poetry prompts in the back are wonderful!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I have so many unpacked boxes from past moves that I've been meaning to go through. Up until now, I've been avoiding it at all costs, but now you and Maria have got me curious!

Author Amok said...

I just know you'll find something poem-worthy in there, Michelle.

Becky Shillington said...

Thanks for sharing this beautiful poem! I can hardly open old boxes because of the memories and emotions that always come racing back. I agree that this creates wonderful inspiration for writing, though! = )