Friday, April 1, 2011

Little pages

(based on suggestions from @_boobook_, @SeanMElliott, @mlledelicieuse, @lucyrogue, @greenspace01)

I always wanted someone to call me 'half-pint'. When forced into the little house by my teacher the blackboard duster, I turned my snobbishness to high volume. The drowned-out novel played the fiddle loudly until I danced it a welcome jig. So yes, I flipped my first impression into quiet guilt and resolved to judge myself before the cover. Laura, wildcat poplin girl with her plaits flying into anger – we both snapped our tempers like a pencil, then regretted our two new pencils. Pa was a soft river over child frustrations and his words won calm (though sometimes my suspicion. Perhaps we were allowed to be angry? Children are allowed to be angry. Max is allowed to say NO.)

But I left behind the pages and the gods I didn’t need. I added their family stories into the history of my bones and grew tall on the calcium. 'Sugaring off' left my head sticky with buckets of syrup as I drifted off in sleeping maples. Butchering the hog curled around my small memories like a crispy pig’s tail. I gathered smoky woodchips and tied calico apron strings. Family and fury and charm and suddenly I was born into that Wisconsin cabin.

I catch a sleeper to my childhood like the last train home from Chicago. Leave behind all them wicked thangs, those loud men drinkin an cussin an pottin the black ball like their lives depended on pockets. Hitch myself a rolling wagon wheel to the dust in my head, and curl up in a canvas caravan. In that tree-bark typeface I suddenly want less difficult things: an orange for Christmas, dancing on a dirt floor, a corncob doll and a sister, warm in the night.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from five peeps:

  • @_boobook_ : “dust. pencils. temper.”
  • @SeanMElliott: “potting black”
  • @mlledelicieuse: “write about the last train home”
  • @lucyrogue: “guilt! And Wagon Wheels.”
  • @greenspace01: “Stories from childhood – family stories, and kids books.”

Today's is a prose poem, which I think may be code for "a poem that is really hard to read because it looks like a way-too-long paragraph". But I haven't ever written one before, so I thought I'd give it a go.

All of these suggestions somehow brought up Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series of books in my mind. When I was assigned to read Little House in the Big Woods in grade 6, I scoffed loudly and pretentiously at the lame title and cover. Then I loved it. I was entranced by the detail in the housework and farmwork that was so far removed from my life that it seemed absolutely exotic. The fact that nothing was wasted made a big impact on me: the butchering of the pig was most amazing for my 11-yr-old self. The head was made into 'head-cheese' (*gag*), the tail fried up to crunch on, even the pig's bladder was blown up for the children to kick around like a ball.

This bad-cover epiphany led to me reading the whole Little House series, but also prompted a period where I chose books from the junior fiction section of the Warrnambool Public Library based solely on the fact that I didn't like their covers (further proof that I was an odd child.) I discovered a lot of wonderful books this way, including novels by William Mayne, Eleanor Spence, E.L. Konigsburg, "BB" and Lucy Boston (who would go on to rank among my very favourite authors today).

I still love the Little House books (and am not fussed about their possibly dubious veracity or ghostwritten status). They still make me want to need less 'stuff'. They still help me apprehend small joys: a familiar song sung by my uncle with a beautiful voice; the uncommon sweetness of a common fruit.


nixwilliams said...

and the sugar! and the ribbons with the colours they wanted to swap! and the bear that was only a tree trunk! and the wildcat from tennessee! and the fish trap in plum creek! and the underground house! and nellie olsen (booooo!)! and and and! (i know i'm straying from the woods to the prairie, but never mind.)

my parents used to read these books to us when i was a kid. i loved them. it's funny, mum would say, "maybe one day your life will seem just as interesting", and i would scoff. but now i can see what she meant - we were self sufficient for a few years, only had solar power, no electricity, wood stove and fire-heated hot water . . . huh.

greenspace said...

and what a great way to find new authors

Anna said...

@nixwilliams - wow, I'm always amazed by self-sufficiency. I'm such a comfort-hog.

@greenspace - Thanks Deborah! It certainly led me to some classics.