Shaping memory into poetry

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Mary in middle school

National Poetry Month (NaPoMo) reminds us to buy poetry books and journals, study poetry forms and techniques, and, perhaps, let our poems address memories or issues we need to work through and/or commemorate.

Both occurred for me, for example, when a childhood memory stayed with me vividly for decades, but I wasn’t sure why until I revisited the event in this poem:

Down Kinney Town
by Mary Harwell Sayler

Feet bare, the girls came up today,
and Mama gave them ouch-grown shoes
that once belonged to me or Kay,
but, oh, I longed to give them too.

Two girls they were: soiled blonde, unkempt –
not like Mama’s girls who shone
in new-sewn clothes and often dreamt
of finer galaxies than home.

With clean hands bare, could I, a child,
share much with girls from a small shack, wild?
But one said, “Come,” so I went down –
down the tangled path to Kinney Town.

Theirs was adventure I could play.
A cold potato rationed me –
eyeless, grown in soil, unbent. They
gave that last leftover. Free.

I took.
Then home I went with backward look.

As I worked on that poem, I realized what bothered me was the amazing generosity of those two girls, who had almost nothing to give but needed to give something. In my naivety, I most likely ate their dinner, but the poem, which I included in my book Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press in 2012, also reminded me why I still love cold baked potatoes.

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12 thoughts on “Shaping memory into poetry

  1. Mary, I am new to your poems (via Glynn Young) and am so glad I came by. “ouch-grown” shoes is a powerful phrase, as is ‘finer galaxies than home’. Your turns of phrase are perfect… (and the little girl photo–you?–is darling).

  2. Such a lovely poem! “Story telling” poems like this one from a Christian perspective are so unique and special as they vividly convey a profound message from the heart of God. It can in itself be used for a bible study…What touched me among others was how these girls also wanted to give because they were so grateful to have received – they gave much…

  3. This is beautiful and real. It speaks to me of the best gift that you gave to the “blonde unkempt girls,” kindness and love. They accepted your gifts, and you accepted theirs. How beautiful. We are all the same in God’s Kingdom, The gifts were double blessed that day. Whether it be a pair of shoes or a potato, it is all the same to Jesus. I am sure he was smiling that day.

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