For my poem today, I used a prompt from poet and educator Jennifer Bullis. Her workshop group tasked members to write a poem “incorporating the following words or concepts: maps / getting lost, stochastic, lightning, and diacritical marks.” Crazy? No. Ambitious and brilliant? Yes!
Read Jennifer’s resulting poem here: Jennifer Bullis
So, I thought I’d try my hand… err, pen… at it.
Forbearers followed maps of their hearts
with ideas of what new lands and new
homes might be like. Where we are born,
where we live and hopefully love, where
we die – these seem somewhat stochastic.
My family left for a new life with a new
life, infant Andrew, from the place where
my mother and my sisters were born.
My family left for the Big Island, Hawai῾i
Volcanoes National Park and Kīlauea.
My family was intact for nine years
before me. My family before me is like
being lost in a foreign country with
no map and no guide to languages
or silences. I never knew what to ask.
In Volcano, I grew up in Dad’s house
on Kīlauea, the most active volcano
in the world. Thunder and lightning
were uncommon. Volcano eruptions
of Kīlauea were frequent.
Dad was a volcano geologist, spoke
Hawaiian fluently, became a divorcé
and a devotee of Pele, the Volcano
Goddess. He enjoyed telling visitors
that Pele loved celebrating holidays.
Here’s something I haven’t told anyone:
I understood Hawai῾i, didn’t need maps
or guides to languages like pidgin. When
I left in 1983 I began my exile. Kīlauea
has been erupting continuously since then.
Andrew Shattuck McBride
April 25, 2012
Thanks for the linkage, Andy! And this poem–so evocative. I love the connections it draws between exile and language. Stanza 3 is positively haunting, especially the simile “my family before / me is like being lost in a foreign country / with no map and no guide to languages / or silences.” (It’s always those “silences,” isn’t it, that make the “foreign[er]” feel most isolated?) What a truly impressive use of all the components of the prompt!
Dear Jennifer, I just emailed you asking if linking to your prompt and poem was OK! You are most welcome. Your poem is striking.
Thank you for all of your comments. Your workshop prompt is very challenging; my way in was diacritical marks and all of the time I lived in Hawaii.
This NaPoWriMo exercise has been invaluable for me in thinking about my family and my life and in generating lots of new material. Oh, and lots of material to be revised, also!