Graduate school at Drake University starts Monday. These days the professors issue assignments before a first class is held. I’ve got to read some executive summaries about climate volatility for a contemporary American literature class focused on post-apocolyptic novels. One of my education professors assigned a poem for our education methods class. The poem is supposed to be autobiographical in the style of Georgia Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.”
I thought I’d take a break from knee surgery and recovery updates and share with you my homework.
Where I’m From
By Daniel P. Finney
I come from
Secrets and mistakes
Heavy burdens chosen to carry,
Then given away to the
Crackling hellfire of good intentions.
I come from adoption by
A woman addicted to babies
With no use for children
And a man who just wanted sanity
For the bride whose joy faded decades before.
I come from madness
Innocence stolen by orange and white pills
Spilled from translucent bottles that
Wiped Mother’s memories of
Her constant cruel words and actions.
I come from escape from harsh reality with
Trips to Korea to serve with the 4077th,
On Rescue 51 with Roy and Johnny, and in
The TARDIS, with the Doctor, who
Saved the universe with a pretty girl and robot dog.
I come from a wire worm-infested red-brick ranch in
Madison County that smelled of what
Farmers call “money,” but is really
Hog shit or chicken shit depending
On which way the wind blew.
I come from weekdays
Construction paper cuts with
Betty Lou at the “House with the Magic Window;”
Learned why the man put the car in the oven
From a balsa wood puppet named Floppy.
I knew how to get, how to get t0
“Sesame Street” and walked
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”
With peanut butter and grape jelly
On both breath and fingertips.
I come from Saturday mornings,
I ran with Road Runner,
Punched with Popeye and
Foiled the Legion of Doom
With the Super Friends.
I’m from Friday dinners at Knox Café
Fried chicken and and rainbow sherbet
Nervously devoured while desperately
Hoping to get home to in time to
See somebody make David Banner angry.
I come from comic books and movies where
Adventure awaits in every four-color panel
Onomatopoeia is defined in colorful splashes
Things blow up and Han shoots first, but
The good guys always win in the end.
I come from battles against the forces of evil
Fought with plastic heroes and villains
On the blue shag carpet of my bedroom.
Toys served as talismans meant to say
“I love you” when the adults could not.
I come from checkers games with
My Dad as his dying heart turned his
Skin gray and he warmed his hands on a
Cup of coffee while we talked about
Hawkeyes, history, and the promise of heaven.
I come from Little League baseball diamond
Dirt rubbed into bare hands, step into the box
And pray for a walk because I was
Afraid of the ball and only in it for
The free cap, comradery, and concessions.
I come from funerals
Parents gone before I was 15;
Dad from a sick heart and Mother from a fall downstairs.
Sometimes the good guys don’t win and
Nobody gets out alive.
I come from romances that fail
When the chemistry of lust and love fades and
The negotiations and compromises begin.
Still, I remember a gentle kiss at the door after the dance,
And misty eyes whenever “Lady in Red” plays on the radio.
I come from second chances made
Corporal by an east-side hairdresser and
Her husband, the printer, who
Couldn’t have their own children,
But chose to love a second-hand son.
I come from mental health care;
Two salmon colored pills in the morning with
Three whites at night and a
cocktail of behavioral therapy to
help me be me despite brain chemistry malfunctions.
I come from feelings projected onto food and
Devoured in great gulps, wearing trauma in
Pounds of flesh hanging from my body for all to
See, judge, point, whisper, and mock while
I manage with my doctors, therapist, and cane.
I come from newspapers.
Box scores, agate type, Sunday color comics,
Picas, pixels, paragraphs, and inverted pyramids.
To seek and publish truth and
I come from timid knocks on the
Doors of strangers who
Suffered terrible loss and stumbled into the news
And I stood on their stoop begging them
To tell me their stories.
I come from short sentences with
Specific nouns and action verbs,
Creativity and accuracy with the
Clock running, racing toward deadline
before those mighty presses rolled.
I come from the end days of journalism like
Living in a hospice without a morphine drip.
A middle-aged veteran reporter runs like an
Endangered species actively hunted, finally skewered
By layoffs served by greedy corporate hustlers.
I come resilience and hope that
I can rebuild my life and purpose to
Trade the pilcrow blues for the head of the class.
Help the young find their voices, sling their sentences
Stack their paragraphs, keep moving forward.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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