22 June 2011

what she taught me {a poem}

My grandma turned 80 this year, and we're having a big party this weekend for her. Big as in actual invitations were sent out. Big as in it's being held at my dad's hunting club, not at someone's house.

My aunt asked me to write a poem for the occasion, which I'm counting as my first commission. Next stop: being asked to write a poem to commemorate a presidential inauguration, just like Maya Angelou. {I am not calling myself the next Maya Angelou, something that's impossible for many reasons.}

But this poem was hard to write.

Poems, for me, usually squiggle out relatively easily, once I get the idea or image.

With this one, though, I could hear the tone I was going for in my head, but I couldn't get the words to match that.

I think this is because I kept imagining myself reading this at the party and how everyone would ooh and ahhh and cry a little and I would be called the Poet Laureate of Iowa. And then my grandma would say I'd always been her favorite.

I know this is wrong and a bloated image of myself, but sometimes, you just can't help yourself: Your brain tumbles ahead to some theoretical triumph and you think about what you'll say and how you'll react.

Then you remember you haven't yet done anything practical to deserve that triumph. And that you shouldn't do things based on how everyone will be impressed with you {that, actually, is something my grandma taught me}.

Once I stopped imagining the party and my starring role in it {I'm not turning 80, after all}, the poem started to come a little easier.

But I'm still open to feedback here. The party isn't until Saturday, which leaves plenty of time for revisions, should you have any suggestions on...actually no, I won't tell you. If I tell you the sections I'm worried about, that will pre-dispose you.

May as well not try to predict your reaction—and instead, just let you read.


What She Taught Me
for Grandma Callahan

I pull the tater tot casserole out of the oven,
wipe my hands on a pink gingham apron.

Something in my movement,
in a certain slope of the shoulders,
reminds me of her,
and I wonder:
did she pass down her gestures,
as well as her brown hair,
in the family DNA?

As the beginning of an answer,
I see her in the kitchen at the old high school,
pulling a casserole out of the oven.

Just down the hall,
tables of quilts
handpainted “Welcome to Our Home” signs
fill the gymnasium
for the Annual Craft Fair


rhinestone Jesus pin on her sweater,
smiling at everyone
everyone who passes through the cafeteria.

In this one quick glance,
I can see everything
everything she passed down to me.

She taught me
to be involved:
an Annual Craft Fair doesn't organize itself.

She taught me
to serve the community:
do unto others, whether they need food or time.

She taught me
to love God:
you can do that by loving whoever He puts around you.

I learned to:
be willing
be prepared

to work hard

to laugh.

She passed down to me
how to make this life delicious


how to make this delicious tater tot casserole
that I have just pulled out of the oven.

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