by Ted Kooser
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, says the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar-hole,
and the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow gravel road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm--a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken blow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
Once upon a time when I was a working professional, I used this poem to teach personification to sixth-graders. They loved it. They loved poet's conjured-up images. They loved hearing the perspective of the innocent broken-down stuff left behind. Mostly they loved speculating about what possibly could have happened to the man, the woman, and the child.
After a day or so of thinking through possibilities, I would have them write bio-poems using only non-human objects to tell the story of their own lives. This was always my favorite assignment of the year. Somehow, their stuff had the ability to be honest and thoughtful and vulnerable when the ever-critical, always self-conscious, eleven-year-old could not. Their poems were unfailingly remarkable. Some were funny, some where sad, some were poignant. All of them, though, were honest in a way that only an eleven-year-old's stuff can be.
I thought of this poem and the amazing poetry my students would create the other day as I surveyed the chaos that is my family room and kitchen. What sort of speculations would people make of my life if they were just given that snapshot to survey? I can only imagine! Here is my best attempt to let my stuff honestly disclose a brief snippet of our life. I'm hoping it will prove to be a bit more sweet and humorous than the super-depressing Abandoned Farmhouse.
Not-So Abandoned Suburban Family Room
She wasn't much of a house-keeper says the dust
mounting atop the once-white shutters; nor a chef
yawn the under-used cookbooks stuffed behind closet doors.
She almost always opted out of those tasks
mention the half-read fairy tale left open on the couch.
And the blanket still warm beside it.
There were daughters to love and a young minds to nourish
say the puzzles overturned on the floor.
The last bit of coffee left simmering in the pot
says the nights were long, and the days sometimes longer,
mention the slow-ticking clock hung on the wall.
The backdoor flung open reminds that a little summer sun helps brighten a weary soul, and a bit of music will expedite even the lengthiest Tuesday afternoon, swell the Seventy-Six Trombones set to repeat from the dining room speaker.
The breakfast dishes at the kitchen table say that a man lived their too,
amidst the piles of sequined dress-ups and naked baby dolls thrown about.
Always rushing out the door mutters the forgotten lunchbox left waiting on the counter.
The half-read sports page says that he loved his team.
Wished he had more time to follow those Giants
complains the box scores still-unread;
Maybe in a few more years, they suspect.
But for now there are little girls to be danced with
say the red plastic high heels tossed where they please.
And baby toes to tickle giggle the bright pink socks pulled off tiny feet.
They won't be little for long
whispers the empty swing propped against the wall.
Enjoy them while you can say the toys that seem to be EVERYWHERE.
A purple tutu, a misplaced kazoo, a giant stuffed elephant.
Remember what is most important, they say.
Friday, August 13, 2010
When I first became a mom, school days seemed slightly more than an eternity away. I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea that my wee babe would one day make her own little way in her own little world, apart from me. And yet, here we find ourselves already two weeks into her Spanish immersed mornings con Maestra Sarah and seven other pint-sized Camas residents. We've loved hearing her share about all the goings on of preschool: schoolmates, art projects, stories, and of course, snacks.
Knowing Ella to be a thinking kind of kid who likes to be prepared for what her day will bring, we try to spend some time on the way over the hill imagining what the morning will look like. It was during one of these front-loading session last week that she announced, "I am going to pray before my snack at Spanish with Sarah today so everyone will know who I love."
True to form, Jesus met us in a rather unexpected place. Coming down Dallas, through the flashing yellow light, Ems chattering in the back, He used our four-year-old to remind us what we all should be about. Thanks, Ella, for wanting everyone to know who you love. I pray that I might live that way too.
"He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them."
Matthew 10: 14-16