Tell me a story. How many times have you heard that from your children? And maybe you’re feeling put on the spot and maybe you freeze a little trying to think of one. Here’s a version of that scenario. Li-Young Lee takes us deeper into that experience.
by Li-Young Lee
Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can’t come up with one.
His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.
In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.
Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don’t go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!
But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?
But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy’s supplications
and a father’s love add up to silence.
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When I was in third grade, I was a bit of a smarty pants and finished the year-long reading program before Thanksgiving. I am forever grateful to my teacher, Mrs. Milnes, for sitting me down in front of the classroom bookshelf and introducing me to Greek mythology. She let me devour those stories while the other poor beasts slaved away over workbooks. As I remember it, one of the higher ups eventually caught wind of this arrangement and I was forced back into the workbook tedium. But that brief, free time influenced me profoundly. Mythology crops up often in my poetry. I still read and study those stories.
Eavan Boland is an Irish poet who splits her time between Stanford and Dublin. Her gorgeous retelling of the Ceres – Persephone myth is a favorite of mine. One question for after you read the poem: Where do you enter this legend?
by Eavan Boland
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15385#sthash.idfpPd8K.dpuf
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Today is a Monday of harried-ness. Thus I am posting right up near the deadline for today’s end. Forgive me. See what happens when I have two days off? But my scurry for a piece revealed this little gem by Margaret Atwood.
It’s a deceptively simple piece and I think it will resonate for anyone who has spent time with a small child and a box of crayons. I’d say more, but you are an enlightened audience and have been reading poetry all month now so I turn you loose to enjoy Atwood’s piece.
by Margaret Atwood
You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.
Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.
This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.
Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.
This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.
It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16789#sthash.EgqPko9S.dpuf
photo credit: Tom Carmony via photopin cc