Friday, May 14, 2010


My dad, postwar Germany 1947

I'm not a poet, but when I first started taking writing classes some of my memories came out in prose and some came out in poetry, probably because my first professor was a poet and just being around her turned everyone in the class into a poet. So since Momalom's Five for Ten writing topic for today is memory, I offer up a poem I wrote about my father, about a moment in time, and about my thirteen-year-old self.


The theater’s dark.
Dad’s breathing next to me,
alive still for two more years.
Mom’s settling in next to him,
fluffing up her hair,
smoothing her dress,
and turning all her rings pointy side up.
My little sister,
her face flickering in and out with the movie,
sits on my other side laughing.

We’re just visiting Arizona.
My parents are shopping
for a flat, rectangular brick of a house,
no upstairs,
no downstairs,
sideways garages and pebble front yards,
all the houses strewn across the desert.
While my sister and I spend each day
floating in the sunshiny pool at the Holiday Inn
and plan what we’ll order that night
from the kids menu at Coco’s.

Dad coughs suddenly in the quiet theater
and a few rows up someone yells out,
“I hope it’s not catching!”
And suddenly I don’t want to move here at all.
I want to pack my two-piece bathing suit,
my nose plugs and my swim cap,
climb in the back of the station wagon
and head east, home to Chicago,
where the fathers all cough like they’ll be dead in two years
and everyone politely ignores it.

Do you alternate writing poetry and prose? Do you have any memories of insignificant moments that take on significance only in light of what happened later? Ever stood at a crossroads?


  1. yes, When I was in third grade..I was in Girlscouts. My mom was supposed to come to the meeting because we had all made mother's day gifts.
    Well, she didn't show up...and did't show up.
    finally, I went and called her.
    She had been taking care of an elderly man (Ironically enough, a german man who was in the german army during world war 2)
    Well, she said 'Wally died' when attempting to explain why she wasn't there.
    she had been there when he had collapsed.
    I thought she said 'rollie died'.
    That was my brother.
    In that moment I had a flash of a thought..
    That thought was "He will die young'.
    then she corrected me.
    But I still remembered and the thought stuck with me.
    Then my mom called me five years ago to tell me Rollie had AIDS.
    And the first thought that came to me was that one.
    I love your poem.
    Isn't it strange the things that you remember. You would think you would remember the big things. But it's these little moments, they must mean something in our psyche. I think our subconcious picks up on things before our conscious minds can catch it.
    I am glad you have a memory of your dad.

  2. I love your thoughts and memories about your parents. They are always so poignant. Every once in a while I feel like breaking out in prose, but not often.

  3. Linda, this is such vivid imagery. Great job, I can see and feel the Arizona sun.

    Funny, it never occured to me that moving to one-story ranchers with yards and wide open space would be odd. But I guess it would be. I went the other way. When we moved to New Jersey, I marvelled at all the multi-family homes, wondered why all the homes were so close together, and was horrified at the lack of yards and parking. Proof that the definition of "home" is vastly different from child to child.

  4. Linda, Great Poem. I can feel you. At that exact moment. Wow. What a powerful memory to have. I love the picture. My Mom left Holland in 1947.

    Alzheimer's. I'm sorry. But when you get it later in life it takes longer to see symptoms. If I can be of any help, let me know. My mom lived at home with full time care for 15 years. She know lives at the Jewish Home for the Aged. They have been a blessing.

  5. I only write prose. But if I could write poetry like that, I would!

    Really striking piece, Linda. Such a specific, personal experience that really captured that feeling of one moment dashing a whole set of hopes and expectations.

  6. I love reading what you have to say, Linda. It's always so well written with great descriptions, almost as though you took me there in the theater with you.

  7. Linda, as you said in comment to me and I am going to repeat back to you as I can't say it as well as you did, great writing in this style is about capturing flashes of images, moments that are fleeting and this you do, making us see it all through your thirteen year old eyes. I love your writing and your love and pride for your Dad and family just shines through.

  8. I mix it up now and then with some poetry here and there :) Keep it interesting and all ;)

    This was so lovely, I felt like I was in the theater with you!

  9. Through reading some of these Five for Ten poems I am realizing the beauty and powerfulness of poetry. With a few simple lines I am sitting beside you. I can feel and see the moment.

    I would probably write 700 words just to convey the same thought.

    When I was in grade 1 my parents had a fight. It was the only fight I remember them ever having. I remember vividly sitting in my bedroom thinking, they are going to get divorced. I don't know why I thought that. I didn't even know anyone who had divorced parents.

    When I was in Grade 8 they did divorce. When my mum told me, the first thought that came racing back was of me, age 6 in my bedroom.

  10. Love this. I tried to write a poem/prose (prosem?) for my memory one. It came out half regular, half prose. It was definitely not my normal voice, but I kind of liked experimenting. Yours was very powerful. Thank you for sharing!

  11. I really felt the sadness in this, the strangers in strange lands, the power of the desert for the Jewish psyche... I felt this one in the bones.

  12. Yeah, you ARE a poet! I love the 13 year old girl sitting there, your dad breathing, mom fluffing sister flickering and how everything can change because of one comment. Amazing. Ooh, and Coco's, used to go with my Boo Boo for pie - remember how they used to chill the salad plates!

  13. I love the way you captured that moment. I do alternate occasionally. And poetry usually is flash. I just let it write itself, I don't think too hard about it. Hmmm. That could be a theme in my life. Not thinking too hard.

    I have trouble with decisions so instead of standing at the crossroads in life, I usually have to sit for a while.

    Thank you for sharing this great poem with us.

  14. Linda,
    This is just beautiful. I can feel that young you, those moments. This needed to come out as poetry.

  15. This is beautiful Linda. So poignant. I write both. I love poetry, how so much can be said with so few words. Like this poem.Thanks.

  16. Linda, my jaw is on the floor. That last stanza just pierced my heart--so moving and sad and wise. I love this, and I love the picture.

    What I don't love? The kid's menu at Coco's. We ate there WAY too much when I was little. Gack.

  17. Such a nice photo of your father. It holds more than just his physical features, it tells a story in itself. When I find myself missing the people in my life who passed, I suddenly see their face in memebers of the family. There is solace to be found when you see your fathers face in your daughters. You must draw a good bit of your courage and strenght from his spirit. Lovely poem.

  18. I can feel myself there in that theater. As you know, I went the poetry route this week a few times. I have a hard time referring to my non-prose writing as poetry, actually. I never felt like I was any good at poetry. But I'm learning not to hold myself to any particular definition. Words on paper (or screen) are writing. No matter what the form or end result. They are the words that need to be written at just the moment they reach the page.

  19. Poignant and beautifully written, Linda.

    It is amazing the things that stay with us, the memories that linger...

    Wishing for you the comfort that memories bring...