Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Imagery and Poetry

Last week, I wrote this post that used Thanksgiving as a prompt to poetry writing.  I ended up with a strange meal in that Thanksgiving poem. 

Today, I'll post a poem that takes a more traditional approach to Thanksgiving food, although I'm hesitant.  As I've written before about autumn and poems about that season, the danger in writing these kinds of poems is that we'll incorporate overused images in an already tired way. 

I'll let you decide about the following poem that uses Thanksgiving food and images (turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians).  Have I made them fresh?  Or am I paddling in overstressed waters?

I wrote this poem years ago, when I saw a child walking down the street with his mom, during a beastly hot November day. He held one of those drawings where you trace your hand and turn it into a turkey--he had a paper feather in his paper headband. I realized with a start how close Thanksgiving lurked. Out came this poem:

Indian Summer

Summer returns to us, unwelcome
guest. We flip the switch from heat
to air and wonder if Thanksgiving
in the age of global warming
will always be this warm.

The children trace their hands to create
turkeys. They argue over the proper
number of construction paper feathers
to include in Indian headbands.
No one wants to play a Pilgrim
in the school pageant. Founding Fathers
hold no fierceness. Far better to be a Brave.

I bake the same sweet potato dish
that goes back generations, back to the hills
of Appalachia, when my immigrant
ancestors must have wondered at their folly:
a different continent, a different tuber,
it’s still grubbing for food.

When I was young, I underestimated the strength
of my own spine. I wanted to join Indian Princesses,
sit around a fire, have a special, secret name, to participate
in rites created for white girls with no hip
heritage of their own for outsiders to exploit.

Now I long for my elders, dead too early
from those diseases of a life half lived
in poverty. They left me with a handful
of recipes, good gardening techniques,
and a lifetime of lonely rituals.

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