Rebecca’s challenge for us today was to write a poem about a place.]
The place inside me that should be full of home is often scary empty.
Questions about home confuse embarrass me.
“Where are you from?”
Do you want to know where I grew up?
But the me you know,
So little of that me is from the place I grew up.
Do you want to know my childhood home?
But when I say New Orleans
I see in your eyes a different reality than my childhood
My childhood was not the French Quarter
And Mardi Gras and Cajun/Creole food
And the most unique (how I hate that phrase
And not just because something is either unique or not – unique does not admit degrees)
City in the United States as it has been characterized
All of that surrounded my childhood
But none of that was my childhood place
My childhood was not the smells of mom’s cooking
Or my dad whistling as he strode home on his long legs
From the bus stop after getting off work
My childhood was not delivering roasted nuts to vending machines
On weekends, riding in our ’53 Ford enfolded in the
Warmly safe smells of huge bags of fresh roasted nuts in the backseat
My childhood was not standing at the rail of the ferry across the mighty muddy Mississippi
Half thrilled and half scared looking at the flat barges and white banana boats
Squirming around, wanting to return to the car long before it was necessary
Always worried, no matter how often we took the ferry,
That something would go wrong with the docking
My childhood was not the Big House on Allard Boulevard
Just off the bayou
Filled with always old, almost indistinguishable great aunts
Tante Lise, Tante Del, Tante Dele, Tante Ne, Tante Georgine
And my tiny great grandmother, Mere J C, blindly crocheting in her rocking chair
Bonjoour, Mere, co -maun taullay vou?
My childhood was not our Catholic school
With the crowded classrooms, straight rows of straight children of the boomer generation
And the nuns and the uniforms and the clickers
And the lines and the rosaries and standing in the fenced playground
Watching the others play and wondering how they knew the secret
And where I could learn it
My childhood was not summer weeks with my grandparents on Texas Air Force bases
Or daring to pet the small gators that the boys cross street found in the canal round the corner
Or sharing a bedroom with my two sisters and whisper reassuring them that
Despite the noisy fights, our parents would never divorce.
We are Catholic.
My childhood was not the hot summers when we really would,
At least once ever year,
Try to fry an egg on the sidewalk
Or the Christmases at my father’s father’s house
When our cousins always got lots more than we did
Or the tree with the angry cardinal that our neighbor, Mr. Joe, shot
Or Mr. Allen who couldn’t drink tea because it reminded him of his years
Hidden in a French village after his plane was shot down
Or the swing set in the back yard where I put a hole in my head
Or the chain link fence enclosing every yard all down the street
And I ripped my wrist open on ours when my dress caught as I climbed over it
I was over it, I just had to free my dress, carefully without ripping it,
So I didn’t get in trouble but instead I ripped my wrist
My childhood was not the vegetable man who came round every week, Mr. Chris
Or my young uncles who tried to teach me to blow bubble gum bubbles
None of these are the places of my childhood
All of these you might hear about from my mom and sisters
Or from me
But, still, for me, in that place called home
There are only three heres:
Books and church and fear
And I don’t know why.