April 12, 2016

Monday, October 6, 2008

Writing Exercise: Show 'N Tell

Recommended for High School and up Poetry & Non-fiction/Memoir
I took a wonderful class with Baltimore poet Kendra Kopelke a few years ago. One exercise she gave us – write down 50 early memories. You might use Michael Z Murphy’s “Show 'N Tell Disaster” to jog your memory or for inspiration. The first 10-20 items, easy! The next 10-20, more thought required. By the last 10, you’re reaching. That’s a good thing. (I've heard some writers extend the exercise to 100 memories.) You’ve done the show part. Put the list of 50 memories away for a few days. Then read it again. What’s on the list that makes you say, “Why the heck do I remember that?” Then tell us why.
Here's my response to the prompt:
Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone The mountain is taller than I, halfway to the ceiling of our new living room. This is how carpets are delivered, piled in long, round rolls. Put a penny in your mouth and you’ll smell them: acrid and heavy and new, sour and exciting. With my brother I skate over the wood floor in socks, try to crash the mountain of carpets. Climb it and we are king and queen of a log pile. We cannot fell or budge them, though their sandy undersides mark geometrics on our knees. These logs have no rot, no rings to mark the fire or flood. The disasters are all ahead of us. When Dad is away we eat fast food, French fries at the new stone hearth. In two years our brother – the child my mother is carrying – will bang his chin on this stone and nearly sever his tongue with his teeth. There will be blood on the rug, the salty taste of it in the air. But tonight the scent of salt and oil is good. Furniture is scant. We gather on the floor around the fire. The young painter stands by the window. He has stopped rolling the walls and joined us for dinner. My mother is somewhere in the room. The painter watches her. He has dark hair and the youthful, slender form my father has outgrown. I watch the way his mouth moves when he looks away from my mother. The muscles of his back are taut with longing. Less than ten years in this country, her accent still fits like an egg in her mouth. He is not the first to mistake her round, elegant vowels for virtue. I want her to take offense, to fire him. But she is as kind and inattentive to him as she is to anyone. Angry for her sake, I begin to love my mother with a viciousness the painter can’t know. I pull her to sit with us by the fire, meals spread on our knees, and let the warm salt dissolve on her tongue, until it burns there like a pungent kiss. Laura Shovan
“Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone” appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, 2004, Volume 6. You can also find the poem in the new Maryland Writers Association Anthology, "New Lines from the Old Line State."

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