Last December, I participated in project reverb, a reflective writing challenge meant to close out the year and prepare for the new year. One of the groups hosting reverb prompts decided to continue the reflection through the year and sends out a monthly prompt. The prompt for October for #reverb14 is as follows:
Origins | Get back to our roots. Where are you From? Is it California, Minnesota, China, Ireland, Earth? Do you know who you are? How you tell people where you are from, and why?
For this prompt, I’ve decided that the appropriate response is to complete a “Where I’m From” poem ala George Ella Lyon. I’ve written probably a dozen different iterations of this poem – every time I teach a class and use Lyon’s poem, I write my own. Of course, finding one of them now would be beyond my capabilities. That’s OK, though, because it’s easy enough to create a new one.
Where I’m From
I’m from teachers and hillbillies and fractured families that have tenuous grips on reality.
I’m from the Ozark foothills, golden waves of grain, and endless miles of corn fields.
I’m from ice-cold creeks that run clear, holding water moccasins and leeches, and bathwater-warm lakes where minnows will nibble your toes.
I’m from dark forests, shallow ponds and rocky hills covered in briar patches.
I’m from small towns where everyone knows everyone and your trouble beats you home.
I’m from big gardens and small basements filled with rows of quart jars holding summer’s bounty, meant to sustain you through the winter.
I’m from grocery stores that extend credit until the first of the month so they can do it all over again.
I’m from bikes racing down narrow two-lane roads, gone the whole day long.
I’m from outhouses and bare insulation, cockroaches and mice.
I’m from religion and obsession and visions in the back door glass.
I’m from chainsaws, sawmills and choking smell of sawdust, bark scratching your arms, debris getting in your eyes, armfuls of wood too heavy to bear.
I’m from ticks and chiggers and baths in bleach or kerosene to kill the critters that caught a ride.
I’m from summer hay crews, too small to toss bales onto the trailer but big enough to stack them up, creating space for more.
I’m from back-breaking, exhausting, dirty work that reaped little financial reward, in spite of holy promises of blessings and bounty.
The Rest of the Story
That poem is the beginning. The reality is that I’ve been nurtured and raised in many places. I think, though, that in order to understand me and my quirks and idiosyncrasies, you have to know about the place that really birthed me…even though I wasn’t born in southwest Missouri. It’s where my family is from, it’s where I spent my formative years. It’s the place that has shaped me. All of my issues and some of my greatest strengths come from those little towns where my time was divided as a child.
I’ve spent time in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Mississippi, and Kentucky. I think I could rightly call all of those places home…at least for a little while. I’ve got friends like family in all of those places, and in a few lucky spots, there is still actual family there.
If you boil it all down, I suppose that who I am is wrapped up in hard work and poverty – as well as love and beauty. I am from hard workers who don’t always succeed, who may not have a lot to show for it, but who are generally happy, albeit at times twisted, with the places they find themselves. And when I think about myself, I’m pretty sure that regardless of where I wind up, that’s the spot I occupy as well. And it’s good.