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Poetry and Art–Early Memoir Snapshots

Blanche and Lulu 1895

 

To write a memoir is to embark on a long journey of the imagination and of memory. My path of gathering memories, images, and stories was first through autobiographical art–through painting, collage, etching, and mixed media. But I knew that words were necessary as well, and began to capture moments through poetry. From time to time, I’ll post some of the poems that eventually led me to my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, that were part of the process for finding the story. Photographs and art work can show what words can’t, so they will be included too.

My great-Grandmother Blanche was a powerful figure for me–very old, in her eighties, she taught me about a kind of pioneer woman strength and steadfastness that were missing with my grandmother and mother, and shared with me the stories that helped me to understand who I was and where I came from.

This poem is about her, and the photos are of her and my grandmother as a baby, in 1895.  Later, Blanche at 90.

 

 

Featherbed

First Place Prize Winning Poem

East of Eden contest

 

 

My great-grandmother Blanche washed her sheets in an iron caldron

August heat spilling down her neck,

eyes moist from heat and steam and memory.

She plunged the stick, churned the suds,

 her knotted hands

wringing dirty water into a chipped porcelain pan,

blue veins bulging,

bones and spine hard like a man’s.

           

I held up clothespins for the hanging, Hollyhocks bursting high

against her outhouse, pink flowers like skirts.

 The white sheets snapped,

the plains wind blew, the perfume of sheets, roses,

sweat, the summer sun

burned into memory.

 

She beat the featherbed with her fists as if against a jealous lover,

slamming against it with a startling fury.

What anger did she remember?

“Like this,” she said, but I couldn’t make a dent with my child fists.

I watched her, expert featherbed beater,

 grateful she was not angry at me.

 

As crickets sang in the coming darkness,

she smoothed the sun-drenched sheets on the featherbed,

slipped a white nightgown over her drooping flesh that had known eighty years of life,

and curled her body around me.

 

She whispered stories into the pillows, the pendulum clock

tocked and ticked. She remembered the first radio song,

how after the first ring of a telephone and the voice out of clear air,

she held the phone, and cried.

 

The first time the Ford, not the horse,

took her past fields of rustling corn

while the harvest moon rose.

 

As we breathed in and out the afternoon’s sun,

and her memories, I knew skeins of time before my own,

before machines and gadgets,

the froth of new buds in her father’s apple orchard,

how she stopped and listened

for ripples of time yet unknown.

 

Never imagining me curled inside her cocoon,

never knowing her featherbed and stories

would feed lonely nights fifty years in the future,

or how I would sleep on that same bed

in a white nightgown, and think of her when she was young,

 

time suspended in silence,

apples and death pausing,

while she inhaled the future,

unsung.

 

        Blanche age 90 May 1963 cropped   

 

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8 Responses to Poetry and Art–Early Memoir Snapshots

  1. girl says:

    This is a very good poem, makes me feel as if I’m actually there!

  2. […] wispy nature of memory and poetry to help me learn understand my beautiful mother and grandmother. I wrote many poems about my lost mother, my great-grandmother’s life on the farm, sometimes combining them with images I collaged or painted. To learn more about my father, I […]

  3. Linda Joy Myers says:

    Thank you for stopping by, and come back again Pamela!

  4. Simply beautiful, I was captivated. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Linda Joy Myers says:

    Hi Berta,
    Yes, the washing caldron! I share Blanche’s story about this in my memoir. The hard hard work these women did, week after week, their whole lives. It makes me tired to think about it! Thanks for your comment and keep writing!

  6. Linda Joy Myers says:

    Thank you Sharon! Glad you see the connection between poetry and painting and my memoir! I did “see” the images as I wrote, and tried to bring them to life in the book! Appreciate your support and vision!

  7. Linda, As a teenager, I lived with my family of eleven in a converted school bus in bottom land in central Illinois. We boiled and stirred our wash in a cast iron cauldren as if it were our next meal. And treated our next meal, beans, potato soup, or an occasional stew if we’d killed a squirrel or duck with enough care to prevent scorching. I’m writing a memoir or two and NAMW is a blessing.
    Berta

  8. I’m fascinated to read this poem after reading about Blanche in your memoir. I clearly see how word-painted poetry images transferred to pages of prose, lending depth and richness to the final volume. Thanks for sharing this inspiring example.

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