Thursday, March 22, 2007

They Hang Above My Desk

These two pictures hang above my writing workspace, and have since my mom sent them to me 5 years ago. I've never really thought very deeply about them, but as soon as I read this week's Poetry Thursday post, I immediately thought of them.
Please excuse the quality of the first picture, that's the best that it would scan.

Woodland Hills, California, May 1985

You were six and I was eight
and you were already bigger
than me. This must have been taken

before everything changed,
but I don’t remember that time.
I wonder if you do.
I remember bike rides in the park, endless
summer barbeques, our parents
on opposite sides of the lawn. Even this
is a lie, something I tell myself

to fill in the blanks. I want
to call you, ask Do you remember?
Did this really happen? Were we ever
this close, my arm crooked
around your neck, my hand swatting
your forehead? The pictures are yellow

and grainy, but they are all I have
to go by. I try to remember
details, but even they seem wrong.
This was our kitchen, our counter,
our ajar cupboards, our ill-fitted
swimsuits. This was our childhood, still
and flat, burned into this precious, warped paper.


Beaman said...

Poignant poem. It is emotional yet not over the top which is a credit to your writing. It reads very well. Good work.

Emily said...

I really liked this...reminds me of Sharon Olds a bit. I love this concept of looking at a picture of yourself and not remembering. Lovely.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I recognise the feeling, looking at old pictures and they seem as though they're of someone else....

poet with a day job said...

I love old pictures from the 70s. They sort of have a smell and thick feel to them. So, the pictures already suck me in.

I love "they must have been taken/before everything changed"


"our parents
on opposite sides of the lawn"

For some reason, these two ideas inform me more than all the other details in the poem, because they fix me on the unexplained, the potential, the possible - they show me everything that is not in the poem. They are therefore the strongest threads in the poem because the poem is about what cannot be remember and also what cannot be believed: that the two were ever as close as the picture, that the two were ever anything but what they are right now. And even as it feels this way to the person in the poem viewing the pictures, she sort of wishes the pictures true. And that's the heartbreak, and beauty.

Left-handed Trees... said...

The questioning, the wondering if the other person remembers it as the speaker does was what struck me...this curiousity about perspective and memory so beautifully done.

L. Monique said...

What an emotional poem. Subtly emotional without any in your face sentimentality. Wonderful tie-in to your picture.

Regina Clare Jane said...

Pictures like these can bring back so many memories- and also a lot of questions and soul-searching. Thank you for sharing them and your poem.

Kimberley McGill said...

"I try to remember
details, but even they seem wrong.
This was our kitchen, our counter,
our ajar cupboards, our ill-fitted
swimsuits. This was our childhood, still
and flat, burned into this precious, warped paper." My favorite stanza.
The poem was tender but not in an over sentimental kind of way. I often look at childhood pictures and wonder whay was real.

gautami tripathy said...

This poem objectively deals with something so sweet and emotional from those childhood days. That is the beauty of it..


Pauline said...

Nicely paced with a genuine voice. I like the mystery amid the details.

Brian said...

So many memories only exist in "precious warped paper". That is what I feel about the past. Did it even happen?

Jessica said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Sorry for my late replies --
thursdays have been busy days at work. I just want to tell my bosses and students, that they need to back off on thursday, because it's poetry thursday. I don't think they'd understand. :)

thanks beaman for your kind comments -- I'm glad it wasn't too maudlin... childhood poems have that threat.

Hi emily -- thanks for the sharon olds reference. she is one of my all time favorites. Whenever I bring her books to my lit class, my students like to snicker over her dirty images. :)

crafty green poet -- isn't that weird that we can't remember the little moments that we capture on film?

pwadj -- wow -- thank you so much for the comments. I often wonder if I leave too much out of my poems. Rather than having mystery and potential, I could be holding back and witholding information. But, at the same time, I don't like to give it all away. Seems too prosaic.

One of my good friends just read a third of my thesis manuscript, and he was able to identify most of the events that triggered the poems, so I must be doing something right.

LHT, l. monique, and guatami -- thank you for stopping by and leaving such great comments. I appreciate it!

regina clare -- I was surprised by how much soul searching these pics caused. I only look at them every day, but do I ever really *look* at them? Seems not.

kimberly -- thank you for the comments. that stanza was a struggle (the whole poem was) so I'm glad that you liked it.
pauline -- thanks for calling it genuine, I was worried about it sounding false. :)

Norma said...

"before everything changed. . . our parents on the opposite sides of the lawn. . ."

This is so touching. The little child inside. I hope someone is listening (reading).

Thanks for stopping by.