CHILD WITH A CAUSE
My grandmother was chicken-plump.
She wore long earrings, smelled of
Pear's soap and lavender water.
She kept cream in a jug under
a blue-beaded net.
Grandfather kept us both
on a tight rein, our place
at the kitchen sink. When Gran's mind
slipped slightly out of gear
I was her memory.
Nearly always, that is. She peeled
potatoes once, put them ready
for grandfather's tea and forgot
to light the gas. He was furious.
I saw Gran's tears.
Upstairs, in the narrow hall
I waited, scuffing the turkey-red rug.
He took his time. The flush thundered.
His shape vultured against
the door. I was raw
as carrion. 'It's not fair.
You made Gran cry.' He lunged at me.
'How dare you, child? How dare you
speak to me like that?' Picked clean
by anger I ran.
'Don't mind him,' my grandmother said.
'He likes his tea on time.' The matter
was closed. Grandfather tore into
his beef stew and mashed potatoes.
I pushed my plate away.
Write a poem that tells a story about a conflict with one of your grandparents. Give minimal background; tell what happened; and when it is clear how it came out, stop.
Or, try it from this point of view: Adults make mistakes. Sometimes their mistakes are hurtful. Write a poem about catching an adult in the act of making a hurtful mistake. What happened? Were you able to right the wrong?
her grandmother called her from the playground
"i want chu to learn how to make rolls," said the old
but the little girl didn't want
to learn how because she know
even if she couldn't say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent upon her spirit so
"i don't want to know how to make no rolls"
with her lips poke out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying "lord
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does
Write a poem which describes a time when a grandparent wanted you to do something and you didn't want to do it. See if you can give a reason why you didn't want to.
GIRL TO WOMAN
Nixeon Civille Handy
Whose anger was it
driving me on him,
striping his red-plaid shirt,
my firing nails into his flesh
kicking and crying?
When I was twelve,
playing with cousins at Grandma Casey's house,
she made cold lemonade, and sugar cookies,
calling me to bring it.
When I leaned over setting the tray on the lawn,
this one, laughing, bowed my neck
with his heavy hand, holding me down.
My anger sprang full grown
to terrify the cat in all of us,
a fury of bloody biting and yanking hair.
Grandma pulled me off of him
and laid me in a darkened room.
She gentled me, washed my tears,
then holding my hand in hers, she talked
a long careful time, my Irish-born,
wise-hearted mother's mother.
The years have used her words.
They crown my daily intent.
Write a poem about a time when your anger was quieted by an understanding adult. Or write about a time that something, like having your head held down, enraged you.
i broke a vase at my great-grandfather's house when i was five here come sit on my lap
he said don't feel bad about that vase i didn't like it anyway you helped me get rid of it i
knew better but let him comfort me while i felt secretly bad inside did you know that my
own mother said i was her worst boy no i said that can't be true oh yes he said and she was
right i made accidents happen all the time i didn't really mean to do bad things they just
came upon me when i wasn't paying attention when i was five my brother and i chased the
goose in the barnyard until it fell over dead we propped her up in the fence so she would
appear to be interested in the grass on the other side what happened my father noticed
that the goose did not move all day we got spanked should i get spanked too for the vase
not in my house he said.
Accidents. Breaking things. An unavoidable part of childhood. A hard time for both child and adult. Write a poem about breaking something or some other accident that hurt someone else.
FORGIVE US. . .
Fifty years of your butchering art
are here, Grandfather. I hear the crash
of your falling ax into alder, the whisk
of your keen knife on the blue steel
while lambs and wethers bleat in the barn.
They knew your one quick stroke across
their throats would make their ends
the best you could create. I still don't
like the blood, Grandfather, but I know
now the need for meat.
"Nothing should suffer," you said,
and sought out old dying queens in hives
and pinched their heads. Mensik's calf--
you told us not to watch; bad dreams
would come, you said, so we walked out
and watched you anyway through a crack
in the wall--one deadly swing, no more--
from the spiking maul buckled the calf
instantly to its knees on the hay.
We knew your power then, and ran away.
And now this God, Grandfather, this God
whose songs you sang, whose church
your worship built, whose book you read,
whose name you never said in vain--
He's got you here in His shepherd's barn.
Oh, he's a shoddy butcher, Grandfather.
He's making you suffer his rusty dull
deathknife for years, crippling your legs,
then cutting off you speech to tremble,
then tying you up in a manured bed.
He won't bring you down with grace
or skill or swift humane strike of steel.
Day after day, you sit in His hallway
in your wheelchair and nurses walk by
like angels and shout half your name.
Ah, this God of yours, Grandfather, this
God has not learned even the most simple
lesson from the country of your hands.
You should have taught him how to hone
His knife, that the slaughtering of rams
is the work of those brave enough to love
a fast deft end.
My grandmothers were strong.
They followed plows and bent to toil.
They moved through fields sowing seed.
They touched earth and grain grew.
They were full of sturdiness and singing.
My grandmothers were strong.
My grandmothers are full of memories
Smelling of soap and onions and wet clay
With veins rolling roughly over quick hands
They have many clean words to say.
My grandmothers were strong.
Why am I not as they?
Margaret Walker Alexander, "LINEAGE" from This is My Century: New and Collected Poems copyright © 1989, published by The University of Georgia Press. Permission of The University of Georgia Press.