Friday, May 28, 2010

"paying no heed to the biting cold wind"

The biting cold wind of middle age has swept in, and there is no doubt that my middle-aged brain can't do what it used to. I used to walk into a classroom each year and learn 25 names in 30 seconds; now I need nametags and at least 30 minutes, and the names I do know tend to hover tantalizingly just above my tongue at the moment I need them most. However, I've been noticing a different memory phenomenon that puzzles me a little.

I spent time this week in my daughter's fifth grade classroom talking about poetry as memoir. To mirror the young writers' process, I wrote a fresh new memoir poem for their critique. (I'm sharing below the draft I took in yesterday before their questions, comments and suggestions showed me many ways to improve it.) Once I got going on this poem, I had no trouble at all accessing strong physical and emotional memories of the way my friend and I played. I have deep wells of detailed memory from the years between 5 and 14--not comprehensive by any means, and only sort of chronological--which have fed my writing over the last ten years. But I just allowed my 25th college reunion to pass without me, partly because of a kind of embarrassment about what I don't remember (and what classmates I know seem to remember quite clearly and easily).

Is there really a difference between the way I experienced things at 10 and at 20 and then again at 30? Some difference in intensity, some difference in the quality or mode of recording memories at different ages? Or does it have something to do with writing itself? At 10 I was a writer, but by 15, even, I was recording my life in journals and poems and term papers and letters, and by 25 practically everything in my life went on paper somehow: lesson plans, travel packing lists, favorite songs, budgets....

Maybe it has always been, since 15, the way it is now: I write it down so that I don't have to actively remember it. I decided long ago that, after the kids themselves, our family diaries are what I'd take if the house were burning down. It's a good trick, but it makes me sad to think that in committing these experiences to paper I am perhaps erasing them from my mind.

Indians

We leap like deer
over the rushing sidewalks
of the Eastern Woodlands
"paying no heed to the biting cold wind,"
our oatmeal box quivers full of arrows,
our hair in brave braids.

I am Eagle Feather
and Dori is Laughing Bear
and we are not girls
and we are not white
and this is not 1974.

Laughing Bear has
real deerskin moccasins;
Eagle Feather has
a real deerskin pouch
full of shells that could be wampum,
but neither of us has tasted venison.

We are Eagle Feather
and Laughing Bear
and no one can see
that we are not girls
that we are not white
and this is not 1974.

~Heidi Mordhorst
all rights reserved

Friday, May 21, 2010

penultimate episode

We have arrived at the last poem in the charter school application. I post it from a position of even greater optimism than usual, after a brief period of frustration and even--yes, even a little despair.

However, last week the Global Garden Founding Group got tremendous news: our separate application for $550,000 in federal charter school start-up funds was approved by the Maryland State Department of Education! The money only comes to us if the local school district approves our actual charter school application, but it's a good feeling to know that the experienced charter school reviewers at the state level have found us worthy of that kind of financial commitment. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Now, back to the poem, which does a heart-spinningly, toe-tinglingly good job of voicing the universal even as it addresses one sole reader. Its mix of earth and sky and escalators and airplanes and night and light and reading and writing is just like--well, life. It closes the Academic Design section, as a wish for all the children who might attend Global Garden PCS.

Okay, Brown Girl, Okay
~James Berry

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
every day dusk and dawn get born
from the loving of night and light
who work together, like married.
And they would like to say to you:
Be at school on and on, brown Josie
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of children, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
every minute sun in the sky
and ground of the earth work together
like married.
And they would like to say to you:
Ride on up a going escalator
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
all the time bright-sky and brown-earth
work together, like married
making forests and food and flowers and rain.
And they would like to say to you:
Grow and grow brightly, brown girl.
Write and read and play and work.
Ride bus or train or boat or airplane
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Everybody should be this kind of okay, don't you think?

Friday, May 14, 2010

long time no blog

There are good reasons (mostly relating to overload) that I haven't posted since April 23. I don't think there's anyone out there faithfully expecting to hear from me every Friday, but still I feel sorry about not meeting that expectation.

Oh, wait--there IS someone faithfully expecting to hear from me!
This surprises and makes me glad:
of course it is my mom and dad!

Below is the poem that should have gone into the charter school application (right around Academic Design Section 12.b, "Provide details regarding the school's plan to build and maintain appropriate home-school partnerships"). I knew what the poem meant but not what it said, so I couldn't track it down until I opened up my box of books about families and found the Trumpet Club poster I've had since the 80's. My first-graders are doing some work about family traditions, personal history and autobiography, so I put up the poster and we started reading. Most of them memorized it in two days--and I think I have too, finally!

Andre

I had a dream last night. I dreamed
I had to pick a Mother out.
I had to choose a Father too.
At first I didn't know what to do.
There were so many there, it seemed:
Short and tall and thin and stout.

Then just before I sprang awake,
I knew what parents I would take.

And this surprised and made me glad:
They were the ones I'd always had!

~ Gwendolyn Brooks

The Friday Poetry Round-up is at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup today.