Had the good fortune to have an old friend in town last week. It wasn’t a social call, but not every moment was work, either. Dan was in from Connecticut to give a poetry reading at the library and to conduct workshops at some of the local high schools. He did everything he came into town to do, and made quite a name for himself as he did. I believe that he may even be an honorary citizen of Gadsden now, for all his local-high-school-football-score-knowin,’ Gone-with-the-Wind-exhibit-tournin,’ and fried-chicken-eatin’ ways. That’s all fine and good, but the real reasons for him being an honorary Gadsdenite is because he gave one hell of a reading at the library, and turned about a hundred and twenty students into poets. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a Gadsden chapter of the Daniel Donaghy Club, and that they were working on an epic poem about his exploits along the banks of the Coosa. I could see it rivaling the story of Emma Sansom or Noccalula…
During one of the high school workshops, Dan brainstormed with the students and asked them to write two narrative portrait poems, based upon certain personal things, following certain guidelines. He encouraged me and my friends (a coworker, who was sitting in on the exercise, and the student’s teacher) to participate as well.
The students worked. They worked with eyes looking up to the ceiling while thinking. They worked with arms curled around their papers (to shield from prying eyes) when writing. They seemed unaffected by the assignment. Or less affected by the assignment than were the adults.
For us adults (and I’m basing my assessment upon the fact that, when I glanced over at my coworker friend and at my teacher friend, they gave me the same anguished look that I imagine was on my own face), the assignment was like what I would imagine a person’s first session of therapy to be like. I didn’t know where to begin. And once I started writing, oh, my gosh, I went and made the poems too personal, too therapeutic, too not-for-reading-to-a-group-of-high-school-students-with-whom-I-conduct-business-with-some-of-their-parents. I just prayed to not be called upon to read my poems out loud, which was fitting…because I’m sure that I would’ve felt the same way, had I been seventeen, and part of the student body that day.
So, with the understanding that I am not a writer or poet (although my parents may think differently because they are the people who bankrolled my ballet career, my painting career, my sewing career, which means I am probably still a brilliant ballerina/sartorialist/painter in their eyes. In actuality, I'm just a sometimes teacher of "Ballet for the Uncoordinated," a weekend sewer of stuffed animals, and a painter who can only do the kind of painting that is considered manual labor.), I present my two poems. As you will see, they are linked, and meant to be read together:
Dinner at Elizabeth Padgett’s Trailer, Waynesburg, KY, Summer 1982A housedressed Gran at the stove,scrape, scrape, scraping a wooden spoon along the bottom of the skillet.A knock at the trailer door.Sky blotted out by Uncle Roder’s dark form.Smell of red-eye gravy and his hat is missing.I open the door to his “I done her up right this time.”This, over the sound of dinner being made.
Aunt Sarah & Uncle Roder’s Farm, Waynesburg, KY Summer 1982
Corn, rows a body could get lost in, leading to a bleached-grey barn.Rustling of stalks, mom’s footfalls in front of me, and Gran stumbling out of the barn, “The son of a bitch’s killed her!”A dog’s mournful wail, for hunger, not for this loss.Me, blinking hard, an impossibly blue sky, even more impossible scene unfolding.Nose full of animal, both body and manure.Aunt Sarah, Uncle Roder, Gran, mom and me,A straight-line equation equaling nothing good can come of thisOn a farm in Waynesburg, KY during the summer of 1982.
What did I tell you? Not fit for certain company, right? Well, they are what they are. And I have Dan to thank for dragging them out of me.
Soon, I’ll be posting the intro I gave for Dan’s reading at the library. It’s not quite a review of his work, but it is pretty darn close, in my eyes. And I want folks to get out there and read his work. 'Cause he's real good at what he does.