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I’ve been exploring some of the reasons we write and read stories. And why they have so much power over our lives. In many ways, we live for stories. They keep us from feeling alone and allow us to experience other lives and other places. Stories comfort, excite, and touch our hearts. They record our histories and give our experiences shape and meaning. 

Stories allow us to spend time with the living and the dead. In the acts of telling, reading and writing them, we discover truth and meaning--things we didn't know we knew. I’m often surprised by where the words and memories take me. I write to discover my life and share it with others. Sometimes a poem or story will connect two, seemingly disconnected events and bring new insights. The following is a story poem about my favorite aunt  She is an old lady now, but each time I read this poem she grows young and beautiful again. My dead brother is brought back to life. This poem rose out of an exercise to make a list of "off the bell curve" characters we'd known, choose one, and remember a specific moment in time. When I began to write this story poem, I had no idea it would lead me to my brother and the heroin addiction that killed him.  

IN MY FAVORITE EASTER MEMORY OF LILLIAN NEL



I am ten years old and she, perhaps thirty,
Chanel #5 and whiskey.
She leans against the basement pool table,
Strikes a sultry pose, like Lauren Bacall,
Cigarette balanced in her right hand.
Her long, autumn-leafed hair brushes
Against the yellow collar of her shirtwaist,
Cinched in with a grass-colored belt,
Matching stiletto heels,
A purse the size of Portugal.

Lillian Nel inhales. Her cigarette
Glows ruby-colored gems,
Birthstone rings on every finger.

My brother’s dazzling smile,
Humphrey Bogart eyes, lures her to his game.
As white smoke curls into the light,
Hovers above her, a vaporous halo,
She takes her cue, looks up at me through
Spider-leg lashes and shoots—the white ball
Clacks against a triangle
Bright as Easter eggs dyed last night
Because Jesus rose from the dead.


As balls dart out, sink into felted pockets
And disappear, my brother raises a toast to
Our favorite aunt, for whom no rules apply.
Behind the bar, Patsy Cline falls to pieces,
And my father, his Hamm’s beer sign flashing
Blue neon on his hair, pours his sister another.

Upstairs, my mother, who doesn’t approve of women
Who smoke, play pool, and drink whiskey sours,
Fries our aunt’s favorite buttermilk-battered chicken
In a cast-iron skillet. Though she longs for glamour,
Lillian Nel can’t escape her Appalachian past
Any more than my brother, his school photos
Still smiling above the knots in the pine paneling,
Will dodge a future where the god of heroin waits--

A gaping black pocket
Where brightness disappears.













 


Comments

Laura
06/05/2014 8:51am

Love this. A vivid memory of our Aunt Nel

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06/05/2014 10:44am

Susan, the poem evokes another time, feels nostalgic but not distant from what is real. The "black pocket" is a ready trap for too many young people. The swerve to your brother is quite a surprise and draws me right in.

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06/05/2014 12:20pm

Yes, poems and stories help us cherish the feast of our losses, find our place in the human family, and learn to recognize and welcome ourselves. Thank you for this beautiful poem and these generous insights!

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Kathy
06/05/2014 3:23pm

LOVE this, you poet you.
Stories tell us who we are. That's why burning books/literature is so important if you want to destroy a culture.

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Hannah
06/05/2014 4:51pm

I love the poem - powerful, vivid. and I love how writing does that juxtaposition thing - surprise is the best teacher for writer and reader!

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Linda
06/06/2014 3:59am

How do you do it? You capture a moment in time, then freeze it and share it with the world. I was completely transported back to that moment and I could see her and your brother as if it was yesterday. I loved it!

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Chris
06/06/2014 4:41am

You cannot teach this, you have a gift. You bring the reader center stage making them want more. Well done, well done!!

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06/08/2014 6:00pm

So powerful. As usual, your poems bring me close to tears.

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12/05/2014 10:21pm

This is Great site......

Reply
06/16/2015 9:35am

My dead brother is brought back to life. This poem rose out of an exercise to make a list of "off the bell curve" characters we'd known, choose one, and remember a specific moment in time.

Reply
11/18/2015 12:32pm

Living for stories is great writing the life blog that is very likeable. People read this type of stories when they free. They stories comfort their self and enhance their knowledge because they gain many information on it.

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Barry
02/29/2016 8:36am

Kudos. You have captured well what Christopher Hawke, in his novel Unnatural Truth, so passionately alludes to re our collective interconnectedness:

“Life is a great big beautiful three-ring circus. There are those on the floor making their lives among the heads of lions and hoops of fire, and those in the stands, complacent and wowed, their mouths stuffed with popcorn.

I know less now than ever about life, but I do know its size. Life is enormous. Much grander than what we’ve taken for ourselves, so far.

When the show is over and the tent is packed, the elephants, lions and dancing poodles are caged and mounted on trucks to caravan to the next town. The clown’s makeup has worn, and his bright, red smile has been washed down a sink. All that is left is another performance, another tent and set of lights. We rest in the knowledge: the show must go on.

Somewhere, behind our stage curtain, a still, small voice asks why we haven’t yet taken up juggling. My seminars were like this. Only, instead of flipping shiny, black bowling balls or roaring chainsaws through the air, I juggled concepts.

The world is intrinsically tied together. All things march through time at different intervals but move ahead in one fashion or another.

Though we may never understand it, we are all part of something much larger than ourselves—something anchoring us to the spot we have mentally chosen. We sniff out the rules, through spiritual quests and the sciences. And with every new discovery, we grow more confused.

Our inability to connect what seems illogical to unite and to defy logic in our understanding keeps us from enlightenment. The artists and insane tiptoe around such insights, but lack the compassion to hand-feed these concepts to a blind world.

The interconnectedness of all things is not simply a pet phrase. It is a big “T” truth that the wise spend their lives attempting to grasp.”

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