Friday, July 16, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Going Back Home

by Gregory Djanikian

We have been cruising, half a block
at a time, my wife, my two children,
all morning, and I have been pointing out
unhurriedly and with some feeling
places of consequence, sacred places,
backyards, lush fields, garages, alleyways.
“There,” I say, “by this big cottonwood,
That’s where I dropped the fly ball, 1959.”
“And in 1961,” I say, “at this very corner,
Barry Sapolsky tripped me up with his gym bag.”
My son has fallen asleep, my daughter
has been nodding “yes” indiscriminately
for the last half hour, and my wife
has the frozen, wide-eyed look of the undead.

(the rest of the poem is at the Poetry Foundation)

I'm leaving tomorrow to go home for a week. I will walk and drive around town remembering the minutiae of my growing up years in much the same way Djanikian remembers his. The Ben Franklin where I worked one Christmas break and where I bought macrame and decoupage supplies. The sewing shop where I took lessons. (I think we made halter tops.) The monkey bars Jay fell off head first in 4th grade. The smell of Orth's Department store. The library (now the City Offices). The swimming pool where I spent most every waking hour of every summer from ages 5-18. The alley where we detonated Matchbox cars with firecrackers every Fourth of July. The lilac bushes I picked flowers from on the walk to school to take to my teachers, assuring them that yes, the flowers were from our yard, when they knew good and well that there were no lilacs in our yard. And places that now exist only in memory: the pond at the old golf course, the old swimming pool, the bowling alley/roller skating rink, the Dairy Queen.

What's your favorite memory of your hometown?

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at my juicy little universe. Head on over and leave your links there.


  1. Love your memories, Mary Lee! What happens when you detonate a Matchbox car with firecrackers?
    One of my favorite hometown memories is smelling fall in the air and hearing the cannon go off when our team scored a touchdown, even though I didn't care much about football.

  2. Hi, Mary Lee. I love, "my wife
    has the frozen, wide-eyed look of the undead."

    The apple orchard we used to explore on summer days has been gone for years (houses), but a small farm store stayed open. This spring, it closed, leaving only one working farm in my home town. Sad.

  3. This is lovely, Mary Lee. I love the wife's wide eyes of the undead and the excitement in the narrator's voice. Salute, everyone. That's awesome--thanks for sharing.

  4. Tabatha,
    Not that much happens with firecrackers and Matchbox cars -- there's noise, sand flies, the car flips over, you scream with 8 year-old delight and you do it all over again! LOVE the smell of fall in the air, and not a cannon, but the sound of the pep band for me!

    Laura (AA),
    It'a a bummer when the memory can no longer be visited, except in your memory.

    Laura S.,
    Hopefully I didn't share so many memories that your eyes froze like the wife's!

  5. Hi Mary Lee. What a great poem.

    My favorite memories also include rain. My sister and I would take all of the umbrellas and build a rain-proof fort out of them in the yard. Until the lightning started in, and then we'd run for cover.

  6. A rain fort! What fun! We didn't have much steady rain (in our near-desert part of the country the yearly average is 17 inches) and I didn't own an umbrella until I moved to Ohio. But I would go out and play in the rushing water in the street's gutters after summer downpours. Those were the only rivers I knew growing up!

  7. I love the poem, but I love your memories of Burlington summers just as much. They could become a poem! You inspired me to post a summer memory poem too! Can't wait to see you in Colorado next week!

  8. Hey, another thought,maybe we should all go for original summer memory poems!

  9. Perfect, perfect poem: captures the way that small inconsequential experiences loom large for each of us and can't be accessed by others--except through poetry. ; )

    Someday I'll post a list on my website of all the poems in Squeeze that are about real places in Richmond. Ooh, or an annotated map!

  10. Mine would be visiting the elderly lady two houses down, who fed me hot tea and beets with sugar on top. And she'd play the organ for me and sing hymns! And I'd vaccuum for her.

    Have a fun trip. I like that poem.

  11. Great memories, Mary Lee. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time tomorrow reconnecting with the past!

    In my little hometown, I think about the library, of course, our Ben Franklin (where my brother once stole a bike reflector), Dairy Queen, the park where they always had carnivals, and the pet store, where we were so excited about the turtles we bought, we forgot all about our bicycles parked outside and walked home instead.

  12. Well this has me remembering the pool, the jr. high, the apple tree in our front yard...

    One of my oldest friends is still a close friend and we are now "friends" on facebook. His mother still lives around the corner from my old house. Sometimes I dream about walking those streets. Memories are funny things.

    What I love about the poem is the sharpness of reminiscent longing in the poet contrasted with the boredom & disappointment of the family. Aint it the way!

  13. Mine are similar... only 150 miles down the road. For me it was asparagus hunting in spring, a hamburger deluxe at Freda's cafe (my mom), penny candy at Ernie's (the closest thing we had to a museum), Spree turning our wet fingers into a rainbow during rest time at the pool, riding bikes around "the four mile square", attempting to climb the water tower (before the chain link barrier and when there was a fountain of pure spring water at the base), going to the bank and hearing a friendly hello from everyone who worked there (and they knew your name), tire swings, canning summer's bounty, watermelon and cantaloupe from Rocky Ford (or a field nearby), the "tower" at the pool which was far to close to the edge of the far too narrow pool... so many small town memories in southern Colorado. I was just back last week for "Missouri Day," whose luster was so much more grand and exciting as a child... The folks are gone now, two sisters live there. It's not the same, but I love taking my own children to see the places of my childhood.

  14. Anonymous12:01 PM

    Ahh love this poem. Poignant since I just had a trip to my home town. Memories: the smell of orange blossoms in the spring, walking to and from high school w/ my best friend, dirt roads to explore with friends, the autumn "ring of fire" caused be the Santa Ana winds and fires. Now Simi Valley is this hugh bedroom community for LA county.

  15. Heidi, I vote for the annotated map! FUN!!! (Google Maps??)

  16. LOVELOVELOVE this rainbow of childhood and/or summer memories! Rich stuff here! So much of who we are now comes from who we were then and WHERE we were then. Powerful. Thanks for sharing!

  17. My husband and I were married in our 20s. Shortly after that my father-in-law took us on a tour of his hometown. When my FIL left the car to look at his childhood house, my husband said, in effect, he wished his dad would hurry up.

    A short 12 years later, my husband heard these same sentiments when he gave a tour of his hometown to our son.

    Laura Evans

    PS Actually, I love listening to the history of people's hometowns. I did not have a "hometown" as my family moved quite often.

  18. Mary Lee,
    Oh, this lost poet remembering the sweet past!
    One of my favorite memories is stamping down goldenrod weeds to build our own forts walled in by weeds. Another is going trick-or-treating and remembering which houses played tricks on US!

  19. Our hometown stays with us throughout our lifetime. One of my favorite memories is going to the Highs store and getting a rainbow sherbert ice cream cone on the way home from school.

  20. I loved the memories of favorites include
    ...walking down the alleys on summer nights with the girls singing Here Comes the Sun
    ...sleeping out in the big blue tent and getting bombed with apples by the guys in the middle of the night
    ...watching the landing on the moon with "the girls" curled up in sleeping bags
    ...the pool- walking home- got fries from McDonalds

  21. I love the matchbox cars and firecrackers -- you were quite the "big bang" girl!!

    My memories - a neighborhood of all boys, eating turtle soup at our neighbors, endless garage sales where I sold the books I had already read (even then I loved to own books!), countless games of baseball and kickball in our backyard, getting together with family friends and trying to terrorize our parents, going to eat at the first-ever McDonald's in our town. That was truly a big night out!

  22. Karen,
    Your McDonald's memory reminds me of this:

    My 13th birthday party was a Big Deal -- we drove two carloads of girls to Goodland, KS, 30 miles away, to go to the first Pizza Hut within driving distance.

    **shakes head in disbelief at all the change**

  23. The cool thing about getting to the Poetry Friday party late is that I get to enjoy not only the post but all the fun comments.

    I've read this evocative poem before, and I loved it then (especially the contrast between the narrator's feelings and his family's) and I love it now. About my hometown, I remember riding my bike home from school for lunch and my mother having a sandwich ready on the table for me, and then I'd ride back. I remember spending much time choosing candy at the candy store. That was serious business. I remember search lights at night, the Bungalow Bar man, milk delivered in glass bottles to a metal box under our carport. Also, picking blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries in our backyard, and my mom making preserves out of the raspberries - but first, you had to set them out on a flat plate and wait till the bugs crawled out!

    Great post, thanks, ML.


Wait for the site to stop loading (or stop the loading) so your comment doesn't disappear. We value your contribution to the conversation!