This past Sunday, I was taking the familiar route back to Lancaster after having spent the weekend with my family. It was dark outside, and I knew my bedroom would be too when I got home. Past the Susquehanna and all the headlights of Harrisburg, I started to settle into it, the quiet, how saying goodbye always stings a little. When I’m night driving, I imagine all of the cars in front of me pulled by the in-between light that always shows up when you see pictures of cities in the evening. I know now it denotes movement, the passage of time, but when I was young I believed that all of that light had been laid out long before we got here, that cameras had this magical ability to communicate with the forces we can’t always see, like ghosts showing up after exposure; I used to wonder what my light-line looked like when the sun went down every day, where it would take me in the morning. What would my light look like when I was in high school? Did it know which college I would go to? Was it already slow dancing to the Backstreet Boys at my wedding? Would it zag all over the country before I found my place on the map?
Somewhere towards Elizabethtown, the clouds started dissolving and the early moon came out. I imagined my light turning silver, standing out against all the yellows and reds, illuminating where I’ve come from, where I’m going. I started letting little prayers slip out the windows; thank you’s for every road I’ve traveled, illuminated or not; blessed be’s for all of the people who have helped me build my ways home.
My mobile vespers last weekend got me thinking about an assignment I was asked to complete in one of my college writing courses, and how it helped me make sense of where I had come from and how those places have shaped me into the woman I am. I decided, in light of National Poetry Month, I would give this assignment another go, taking into account how different things are as opposed to just a couple of years ago.
Let me first introduce this exercise. In 1993, a poet named George Ella Lyon, Kentucky’s current poet laureate, wrote and published a poem titled, “Where I’m From,” in which she explored the moments of her youth that had built her into the person she was at the time of authorship. She is currently driving a project to collect a “Where I’m From” poem from each county in Kentucky. I think it’s a really beautiful way to express the soul and persona of place.
Here’s what I came up with in my challenge to revisit this exercise:
Where I’m From
Pulled off petals,
I am from the honeysuckle
stems in the summer,
worn like lipstick on the weekends.
I am from the tennis balls
lost and lining the gutter,
from the stars my father charmed
down to the front yard.
Called in before the rain hit,
I am the approach,
the slow build off heavy heat;
I am from a sky cracked open
like an egg gone running down the cabinets.
I am from the snack drawer, and
“Don’t you borrow trouble;”
I was raised on gum off the sides
of communion cups and letters
from my mother in the other room.
My bones built from the quartz
across my neck. I can take
the small cuts from tin cans,
scars I still call mountains.
I am from bedside vespers
and arms through the car roof,
all air-tangled, swing-low Spanish moss.
I am from seashells in the sides
of tall buildings, riverfront bar tips,
lilacs in my lungs and strong hands.
Strong hands. Strong hands.
Revisiting this writing activity was insightful for a couple of reasons. 1) Before writing this, I hadn’t read my older version, and some of the same imagery I had used two years ago kept popping up. 2) There are new memories I chose to include in this piece, memories I don’t think I counted as important two years ago. 3) I think this whole exercise can speak to how always-evolving we are, how our spaces shape us, and what we bring to the spaces we currently occupy.
In the spirit of all things Transplant, I would love to open this exercise to those who need to stretch their creative legs, and to those who would like to explore how it is and who has helped them pave their paths, find their highway lights. I provided my interpretation of the “Where I’m From” format, but please check out George Ella Lyon’s as well. There are also lots of resources on the internet–this exercise has been used in classrooms, retirement homes, at family gatherings, etc., so there are a lot of different templates, like this one, that are so helpful with generating some inspiration and ideas.
Please, if you feel the spirit move you, share your interpretations of this poem with the rest of the Transplant community, here in the comments on the blog. Again, we all have different pieces of ourselves we bring to the table, and those pieces are what make our communities great. I can’t wait to see where we go together.