Where are you from?

My son’s first assignment from 6th grade English was to write a poem about where he is from. Poetry does not come easily to the literal-minded 6th grade boy, especially a literal-minded 6th grade boy who doesn’t like to write. We ended up working together on this poem for nearly two hours. And in the end, he did it. He didn’t like it, but he did it. I and thought his poem was great. (Don’t worry – I am not going to make you read it.)

The poem he was asked to write was based on the famous poem Where I’m From, by George Ella Lyons. Apparently, this poem is used as a teaching tool in schools and writing workshops all the time because it has a very definite structure. The framework of the poem is always the same; but each individual poem written by using it, vastly different. Having never taken a creative writing or poetry class, I had not seen this poem or template before – so of course, felt I just HAD to try it. My son thought I was insane. (This is not new.)

My poetry writing over the past 20 years has been limited to 2 categories: the multi-stanza-sorority-girl-bridesmaid-toast, and the limerick. Poetry with a capital “P” would spit in my eye. This was the first time I tried to write a real poem – maybe ever – and indeed, the framework and structure of the Where I’m From template made it feel manageable. I’m putting a link to the website where you can get the template, and I’d encourage any of you out there who think this might be fun, to give it a try. I really enjoyed this. Even though I’m pretty sure Poetry with a capital ‘P’ is rolling its eyes at me right now…

I am From by Jill Orr

I am from orange shag carpeting and dark wood floors, neon sculptures, stained-glass windows, and harvest gold refrigerators. From wide suburban streets, lined with tall old trees and faded chalk four-square courts. I am from radiators and asbestos in the basement, from the first house on the block to get a microwave.

I am from watery eyes and serial sneezes, from bug-bites and itchy grass. From grape Benadryl and asthma attacks and freckles and sunburns. I am from staying inside whenever possible. I am from air conditioning.

I am from family vacations in wood-paneled station wagons and silent laughter in the way-back, from my Mom who always knew the latest, best thing and my father who told me the truth whether I wanted it or not. I am from my sister who understands this all without me having to explain. I am from one family split slowly, painfully, into two.

I am from spending every other weekend in the city playing long games of gin rummy with my dad, from watching my mother rebuild her career, from vicious fights with my sister, to seeking refuge in my friends. I am from closing my door and writing it all down.

I am from “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” From I love you’s not spoken, but never doubted. From the security of “I’ll always be here if you need me.”

I am from those Jewish enough not to eat ham on white bread, but not enough to stay away from bacon or attend synagogue; from Darwinism and the Golden Rule and Karma and always try your best. I am from pop culture, song lyrics, and fortune cookie wisdom. I am from the glass half full.

I am from hot dogs with pickles (but never ketchup) and deep dish pizza. From cheese tacos and peanut butter & jelly in a bowl when my mom wasn’t looking, from buttered noodles, fried Matzo, and the Joy of Cooking. I am from one tragic fat-free Thanksgiving where my mom made us go around the table and introduce ourselves to each other.

I am from the time my parents told me I had chicken pox by bok-bok-boking at me through my bedroom wall, and the way it still makes them laugh, from needle-pointed baby books,  PTA presidents, homemade Halloween costumes, Kodak slide shows, and learning to drive a stick shift in the East Bank Club parking lot. From carnival birthday parties on the front lawn and trick-or-treating after dark. I am from knowing there would always be someone there when I got home.

Where are you from?




14 Comments on “Where are you from?”

  1. Kim says:

    That’s a lovely poem, and it certainly says more about you than telling the city of your birth or where you went to high school.

    I just may have to look up the poet and give it a whirl myself (though I’d be the grownup with the brown refrigerator in our first house)…damn, I’m old. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Gravley says:

    It’s great! I love it!

  3. Melissa Zars says:

    I LOVED this Jill! I was so thrilled when Jonathon shared his poem with me earlier this week – it poignantly reveals the small things that maybe aren’t so small. Those sensory details that are so crucial to memories of our childhood. I was so tempted to write my own. I’m thinking maybe I have to now.

  4. Ken Rakiec says:

    You are a genius.My first and last jaunt into Poetry ( capital P ) was catholic school ( small c. )
    I ,like Ralphie , expected a far better grade than a c- ( small c ).I have recovered and now realize over 60 years latter Poetry is in the eye and the heart of the beholder.So now I write on bathroom walls to further mankind and womankind…Yes a smiley face and a wink 😉

  5. Jen says:

    I LOVE this!! 🙂

  6. Christine Meyer says:

    Awesome!  I loved it.  Very emotional.


  7. stacia says:

    LOVED this. I give you a capital A on this venture into capital P Poetry!!!!!

  8. Sharon says:

    I’ll make a point of getting around to this.

  9. Gale says:

    I wish I was still teaching so I could use this in my class! I did a similar exercise but with the poem For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties. I like this one better!

  10. Julie Swain says:

    Loved your poem, Jill! I had completely forgotten about needle pointed baby books. Ha!

  11. Meda White says:

    Very cool! That took me back. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Mary says:

    As always Jill, you NEVER disappoint! I loved your poem!

  13. Scott Orr says:

    whatever the path that got you here, it produced a perfect lady and darling daughter in law! Thanks for sharing! Papa

  14. Revie says:

    1.Civilian and Soldier by Wole SoyinkaMy apparition rose from the fall of lead,Declared, I am a ciiivlan.’ It only servedTo aggravate your fright. For how could IHave risen, a being of this world, in that hourOf impartial death! And I thought also: nor isYour quarrel of this world. You stood stillFor both eternities, and oh I heard the lessonOf your traing sessions, cautioning Scorch earth behind you, do not leaveA dubious neutral to the rear. ReiterationOf my ciiivlan quandary, burrowing earthFrom the lead festival of your more eager friendsWorked the worse on your confusion, and whenYou brought the gun to bear on me, and deathTwitched me gently in the eye, your plightAnd all of you came clear to me. I hope some dayIntent upon my trade of living, to be checkedIn stride by your apparition in a trench,Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation thenBut I shall shoot you clean and fairWith meat and bread, a gourd of wineA bunch of breasts from either arm, and thatLone question do you friend, even now, knowWhat it is all about? 2.N THE SMALL HOURS by Wole SoyinkaBlue diaphane, tobacco smokeSerpentine on wet film and wood glaze,Mutes chrome, wreathes velvet drapes,Dims the cave of mirrors. Ghost fingersComb seaweed hair, stroke acquamarine veinsOf marooned mariners, captivesOf Circe’s sultry notes. The barmanDispenses igneous potions ?Somnabulist, the band plays on. Cocktail mixer, silvery fishDances for limpet clients.Applause is steeped in lassitude,Tangled in webs of lovers’ whispersAnd artful eyelash of the androgynous.The hovering notes caress the nightMellowed deep indigo ?still they play.Departures linger. Absences do notDeplete the tavern. They hang over the hazeAs exhalations from receded shores. Soon,Night repossesses the silence, but till dawnThe notes hold sway, smokyEpiphanies, possessive of the hours.This music’s plaint forgives, redeemsThe deafness of the world. Night turnsHomewards, sheathed in notes of solace, pleatsThe broken silence of the heart. 3.Dedication by Wole Soyinkafor Moremi, 1963Earth will not share the rafter’s envy; dung floorsBreak, not the gecko’s slight skin, but its fallTaste this soil for death and plumb her deep for lifeAs this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuberTo the warmth of waters, earthed as springsAs roots of baobab, as the hearth.The air will not deny you. Like a topSpin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoeThat roots the forests plows a path for squirrels.Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain’sFingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.Long wear the sun’s shadow; run naked to the night.Peppers green and red—child—your tongue archTo scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger’s threatsYet coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew between your lips.Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward heldCuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of kernel—A woman’s flesh is oil—child, palm oil on your tongueIs suppleness to life, and wine of this gourdFrom self-same timeless run of runnels as refillYour podlings, child, weaned from yours we embraceEarth’s honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks areSwarming honeycombs—your world needs sweetening, child.Camwood round the heart, chalk for flightOf blemish—see? it dawns!—antimony beneathArmpits like a goddess, and leave this tasteLong on your lips, of salt, that you may seekNone from tears. This, rain-water, is the giftOf gods—drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.Fruits then to your lips: haste to repayThe debt of birth. Yield man-tides like the seaAnd ebbing, leave a meaning of the fossilled sands. 3.I have a one year old Corgi.

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