Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: Pilgrims

As Thanksgiving fast approaches, let's think about Pilgrims.  Can we write a poem about Pilgrims without sinking into stereotypes?

I remember in grad school, when I asked my English friend if they had Thanksgiving in Britain.  She gave me a look of disbelief and said, "No.  We didn't have Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower to be saved by the Natives who they would slaughter later."

I'm paraphrasing, but that's the basic gist of what she said.  We collapsed into laughter.

I'm periodically haunted by Pilgrims and by our Colonial history.  It's strange to live down here on the tip of the continent, where most of history has been paved over.

Years ago I wrote this poem.  It's not meant to be autobiographical, although my dad has grown to hate yardwork in his later years, and all of my family obsesses a bit over the nutritional content of food.  I tried writing it in a 3rd person voice, but couldn't make it work.  I see the characters in this poem as Thanksgiving archetypes on some level, but perhaps I'm glorifying them.

Do I think I've successfully navigated the Pilgrim hazards?  No.  But the poem pleases me on some level anyway, and so I offer it here.

Shadow Pilgrims

If my parents had been Pilgrims,
the whole path of American history would have altered.

My father would have seen the New World
as one vast yard to mow. Retreating to the boat,
he’d have plotted his escape back to the crowded
Mother Country, with its lack of lawn.

My mother, having worked herself into a frenzy
as she planned the last perfect detail of the feast, would collapse
into a waterfall of nervous tears and find herself unable
to attend the festive meal.

My sister, who claims she can’t do math, would calculate
the precise amount of calories and fat grams in the food.
She’d tell us the percentages and weights of every bite,
throwing a temper tantrum when we ignored her.

My brothers would complain, as they always
do, about the lack of a large screen TV
on which to watch their primitive
games. Too stuffed to play the game themselves,
they might toss a football back and forth.

And I, I would be too worried about this year’s crop
of starving children to enjoy my own abundant
blessings. I’d join my father back on the boat, but first,
I’d slip the natives some weapons, whispering
“Keep these. You’ll need them later.”

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