Where I’m From: A Poem Game.

I am from rusted barbed wire, from Gauloises and old Romanian folk tales.

I am from a Hunter 27 which became a Island Packet 36, mornings stirred by the sound of waves gossiping with fiberglass and sweat-moist sunprints on my arms.

I am from the green magnolia leaf, the honeysuckle, the treacherous yellow jessamine, the tangle of mailbox vines.

I am from the tradition of holding out then jumping ship, stubborness and shooting the moon, Stefanescu and Gancevici, the last ones standing amid bells, beers, or bombs.

From running away on principle and boiling pots of cabbage because our ancestors had it right.

I am from the trails hiked without maps because everyone must find their own way, and the restlessness which knows the stars sparkle differently in every little town.

I am from dark musty rooms where God hovers in the incense and older ladies cover their hair so as not to tempt the young men passionately kissing the Virgin.

I’m from the land of gypsies and vampires, the hora-dancers and crying violins, Dacian noses, what the Romans left behind, a child of communism raised on Dixie milk and sarmale.

From the woman who took off her ski cap and shook her blonde hair over her shoulders and the man who agreed to race her down the slope, the grandparents who dabbled in gulags and the old man who recited a 100-stanza poem whenever he got drunk on vodka.

I am from vineyards, castles stolen by the Hegelian march of history, boxes of high school love letters and dried lapel pins, moonlight-tinted scars on every nook and cranny of skin, love made in clover and cars and patches and moments illuminated by memory. The best part of the meal is the aftertaste.


To make your own “Where I’m From” poem, to toss you beanbag into this worldwide ring, to imagine the past from the breeze over a swing:

“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” Wendell Berry, among others, has voiced this idea that we need to understand our roots to know our place in the world. A poem by George Ella Lyon is called “Where I’m From.” I first heard it read by Appalachian poet Rita Quillen. Six months later, we used it as a writing assignment in a class taught by my friend Elizabeth Hunter at the Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. The poem lends itself to imitation and makes a wonderful exercise of exploration in belonging.

I’d like to suggest that you give it a try. The prompts have a way of drawing out memories of the smells of attics and bottom-drawer keepsakes; the faces of long-departed kin, the sound of their voices you still hold some deep place in memory. You’ll be surprised that, when you’re done, you will have said things about the sources of your unique you-ness that you’d never considered before. What’s more, you will have created something of yourself to share–with your children, spouse, siblings–that will be very unique, very personal and a very special gift.

I’ll give you the template here. You can search on “where I’m from” and find many others who have taken the time to do this valuable exercise. More often than not, one person having completed it, will encourage all their brothers and sisters to complete the poem template for their parents and each other.

Thanks again to Knitwit on the Prairie for the poetic license.

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