I’m not a great poet. I give it a go when I can, though, and I have a strong respect for poetry and poets–in fact, I believe that poetry informs fiction in profound ways, that the best prose comes from someone who at least appreciates poetry. So I try to keep my hand in, if only every now and then.
This poem is, as all entries in the Writer’s Notebook, just draft. So be gentle with it. For more on the exercise, through, see below.
I am reminded of my dad’s woolen Boy Scout blanket,
fuzz balling across it like mold, laying lumpy across
the field I see as I rest my prepubescent palm
against the painted gray barrel of this old cannon.
Across this rippled drag of lawn
a row of blue matches, aims at me.
I am eleven, unafraid.
The narrow muzzles—too small for the great
steaming cannonballs I had imagined the whole
car trip here—some history student, some intern
cemented long ago. The boy I am is disappointed;
I long to see one thin muzzle
heavy with iron instead of cement
fire, flame and acrid smoke and hissing ball
spit forth across the blanket field. I want the acid stench,
gunpowder burning, the rebel yell in my ears, blood,
the paint-red blood I’ve seen in films. I have come to see
the history once flat on a textbook page, now aimed
at my face. I will move on—giddy
with my grandparents in their station
wagon, me sprawled in the open back,
staring at the thin lines of the heater in the glass—I will
visit other places. Forests brakish green in North Carolina,
the sinking Washington monument, lost hazy days
through a foggy Tennesee. I will go home to my parents,
to my father of Boy Scout days,
my mother of classroom talk, I will
jabber youthfully about white-splattered statues,
echoing museums, silent cannon barrels. And later, when I am
grown, I will discover why they all—grandparents, mother, father,
cold statues on horses, swords drawn from stone scabbards—
why they all smiled sadly as I described the green blanket
fields in gray mornings and
the long distant line of cannon
blue aimed at me.
The exercise comes from The Poetry Resource Page. They call it “the childhood exercise,” and the gist of it is to write a poem from a childhood memory. The idea is to list everything you can remember about a particular childhood event–no matter how insignificant–and then turn that list into a poem.