POETS ONLINE ARCHIVE
One Recalled

Laura Boss' poem "At the Nuclear Rally" takes an everyday occurrence - the recollection of someone gone because of a present situation - as its genesis. Through repetition and refrain, she lists a dozen memory fragments which taken together form a mosaic portrait of her father. More so, the poem exceeds memoir with its subtle commentaries on nuclear energy, race relations and the government.

Our task was to write a memoir of someone who has died and frame it in a present day event that triggers the memory. Build your portrait through your selection of details that allow the reader to see the person without you actually describing them outright.

We received very few submissions for this prompt. And yet, it's not a difficult one (as some form poems are) and certainly death is one of the more common themes in poetry. So what is it that made it unappealing? Here are some of the better submissions we received for this prompt..


Diversity

Presidential mandate, Society's Cause
make me think of my brother
whose death gives me pause
to consider these words from his youth:
"It Is my destiny:
that each confrontation
will mold me into whatever I am
If there be STRENGTH in diversity
I should have NO FEAR."

Making his way through college and life
was a study in contrasts
between known laws and strife,
bringing to him more than knowledge.
"A defrocked priest seeks common ground
with an adamant dropout.
A corporate executive bandies words
with a card-carrying communist.
A Daughter of the American Revolution
compares philosophy
with a Greek immigrant.
A hash-slinger holds dialogue
with a musical prodigy."

What strength? No fear?
Now that his life is spent
I ponder the words that appear
in the letters he sent
to this sister over the years:
"If all the people who affected my life
were grouped together,
the result would be incompatibility
seldom becoming compatible."

No fear? What strength?
Now that my brother is dead,
I study his ideas at length
and wonder where they all led.

His last letter said:
"There should be a measure of peace
during the golden years...
a kind of wall
to keep the world away"

Did any strength, ever, sever him
from any of his fears?
 

Catherine M. Le Gault


No one would have known he
died, except for the rustling leaves,
hanging on since autumn,
waking on a windy March night.

Except for the strumming of his guitar,
no one would have known he
died, under the Big Dipper,
spilling from green summer's blue moon.

No one would have known he
died, except for baby grandson's crumpling leaves,
slipping each night under moonlight,
beaming summer's cicada song.

Except for the turning of the pages,
no one would have known he
died, through a misty morning pond,
drifting south with winter's mallards.

No one would have known he
died, except for the rustling leaves,
pleading for one more autumn day,
holding back the winds sweet sway.

Lee A.


Planting Tomatoes

We had always planted four rows of six plants,
staggered to allow the sun. Mid-May was safe
from frost and the seeds had been started
three weeks before on the kitchen windowsill.
My garden now is smaller and one row is enough
for my son and I to plant, enough for our family.
Plant peas on Saint Patrick's Day and when you pick
your first, it's time to put in tomatoes, I heard
myself saying to my son in his voice.
No fancy flats or containers, my father saved milk cartons
cut down and filled with black compost from the pile.
Seed's from last's year's best. Old-fashioned types-
Rutgers, Big Boy, Early Girl- distant cousins of the originals.
I always found it hard to pinch out the weakest seedlings,
wanting to save every leggy plant that was reaching for the sun.
The year I was eight he gave me my own row to plant and tend.
I selected the six biggest plants and dug my holes in the soft dirt
we had turned with the pitchfork for a week before planting.
You can't plant a tomato too deep, he said, setting his
in deep holes, leaving an inch of stem and leaf above the soil.
That way they make deep roots.
But they seemed so small, so much plant wasted, that I
had to plant mine with their full height, staking them to old broomstick
handles and tying them with strips of old rags. His seemed so small
and hopeless planted at the base of the useless poles-
but by the end of school they had all grown about the same.
Mid-July heat and lack of rain put my row into a kind of stupor.
Flowers dropped before they set fruit, leaves curled, and I could not give
them enough water to sustain them through the summer.
That was the last year we planted together,
the last year I planted foolishly,
lost a plant,
or garden.

Ken Ronkowitz


Scars

It was a night when I was drinking.
I wasn't thirsty, but I was drinking
and I was drunk and I thought
of you sober as a priest
singing hymns in a lifeboat.

Sometimes I think I see you
walking across the street,
and I have even run ahead,
only to see a stranger look
at me and wonder who and

why am I still looking for you.
After so many years, wounds
scarred over, healed as well
as wounds can ever heal,
turning at the brush of air past

my face, I seek the direction
of time's arrow. Some nights
drinking until I am forced
to focus to do the simplest
tasks- to walk, speak, write

my name- I am conscious
of your hands on me,
touching those scars,
whispering my name,
your lips brushing mine.

Lianna Wright
 
 
 





At The Nuclear Rally

thinking of my father
who died of cancer of the pancreas
now linked to radiation

thinking of my father
who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission
that ran security checks on him
questioning our neighbors in Woodbridge

thinking of my father
with a pen in his pocket
who could add four columns of figures
in his head but stayed poor
working for the O.P.A.
while colleagues took
expensive presents

thinking of my father
who embarrassed me, singing in the car
with the radio on as I do now
who returned from government trips
with marzipan strawberries, bananas, grapes
who cooked Sunday breakfast of chocolate
French toast (his special recipe)
and let my mother sleep late

thinking of my father
who smelled of Chesterfields
who never hit, never spanked me
told me he was glad I walked home
with the only black woman
in my high school class
thinking of my father
who would have been at this rally
next to me tonight

by Laura Boss
from Arms: New and Selected Poems, Guernica, 1999
reprinted by permission of the author
Cover Painting: "Laura" by Gregory Corso

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