Friday, November 7, 2014

Where I'm From

By Susan

George Ella Lyon
Fall often makes me homesick. 

Even though I've lived in Texas for almost thirteen years now(how did that happen?), I will always call Kentucky my home. I miss the turn of autumn colors and the bright brilliance of spring. The seasons in Kentucky really show off their good stuff, unlike the high plains of Texas, which really only boast about their ability to burn through a summer, boldly extending those 100 degree days into October a little further each year. (I've always thought Texas to be a bit proud of its heat abilities; then again, it is very good at it.)

Today, it's in the mid-60s in Texas in November, so I'm wearing a beloved turtleneck and have the floor heater on my socked feet as I write. It's almost as good as being in the hills of Kentucky, and so I pretend while I write and I transport myself mentally to my home. 

My novel is set in Kentucky, and there are days like this one that I can almost smell the bluegrass, when I feel close to my subject matter in a visceral way. On other days, it's painfully elusive. During those times, writers can choose to step away from the words or to dive in and see where it can take you. 

Kentucky writer and teacher George Ella Lyon produced a wonderful poem, "Where I'm From," from one of those moments of diving in. Here it is:

Where I'm From
George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own. 

I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself. 

I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
          to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight. 

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments--
snapped before I budded --
leaf-fall from the family tree.

She says the following about this poem, taken from her website: "In the summer of 1993, I decided to see what would happen if I made my own where-I'm-from lists, which I did, in a black and white speckled composition book. I edited them into a poem — not my usual way of working — but even when that was done I kept on making the lists. The process was too rich and too much fun to give up after only one poem. Realizing this, I decided to try it as an exercise with other writers, and it immediately took off. The list form is simple and familiar, and the question of where you are from reaches deep."

So on a day like today, when I'm feeling autumn settle in and can almost smell the wood-smoke of home, I'm making my own list of Where I'm From. It's an exercise to transport me but also to ground me. I may not know the timeline of my journey or the upcoming curves in my path, but I know where I come from. And right now, that's what matters. 

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