I came across a poem last week. It was a poem in response to an obituary the poet had seen. Here’s how it begins…
AFTER MY FRIEND PHYLLIS SHOWS ME THE NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY HEADLINE: ‘LOU MICHAELS, ALL-PURPOSE PLAYER, DIES AT 80, MISSED KICKS IN ’69 SUPER BOWL’
When I die, let them write about
all the mistakes I’ve made.
Let them mention in the headlines
how many rejection letters
I’ve received from The Sun.
Let them say […]
(Click here to read the rest of the poem. No, really, please read the rest of the it!)
This poem elicited an “mmmmm” from me, and then it flipped a switch. This was a prompt! I had to write one, too. Thus…
AFTER SEEING A POEM ABOUT AN OBITUARY OF A KICKER WHO MISSED IN THE SUPER BOWL
“When I die, let them write about
all the mistakes I’ve made.”
Let them lay bare all of my failings,
mention in the headlines
that all of my contest entries
magazine submissions returned.
Let them say, “Despite playing high school sports,
she battled obesity for most of her life.”
Let them recount the tale of my first apple pie,
which I dropped face down on the kitchen floor
as I proudly carried it to show my daddy.
They can note how my voluminous books
teetered in precarious stacks throughout my house,
which was located in earthquake country,
and how the majority of my tall furniture remained
unbolted to the walls.
They can remind readers that I railed
pointlessly at the injustices of the world,
the infuriating melding of religion and politics
and at the self-assured declarations of men and lunatics.
That my test scores were disappointingly inconsistent,
that I indeed
left some children behind,
despite Bush and his very best efforts,
“What do any of us really accomplish?”
the poet asks.
My friend Tonia says, “We do the best we can
with what we’re given.”
I was given a big-ass heart
that I wish looked better in jeans,
and too-easy tears
that I wish had more responsive control knobs.
But I do the best I can and
wield the heart, the tears,
and seek to extend the mercy and love
beyond the veil of snark and fear.
So how about it? Wanna play? Does this take your fancy? How would YOU respond to this? What might your obituary say? What would your poem focus on? You might start with some negatives, some failings laid bare. Then, when it feels comfortable, you can begin to turn the ship. I used Trommer’s line, “What do any of us really accomplish?”, as my hinge point. (So does Trommer.) From there, both poems attempt to locate the sweet amid the bitter, to turn from shade to at least a little indirect sunlight, to find the hope and comfort in the graveyard.
Just play with this. No pressure; no judgment. Feel free to share it, or not. Feel free to post it on your own blog, or not. The spirit of the prompt is simply to have fun and see what comes.
Photo (c) R.L. Pryor, 2013; St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, CA
Thank you, Bren! Feel like playing? Any room for poetry play amid the hospitality? 🙂
Your writing inspires me. Yes, I really want to try this. I just wish the title of the original poem weren’t so ding-dang long. It’s awkward to reference it. 😉
Hahaha! I love the title! I think it’s part of the poem’s brilliance. 😉
As always, deeply thought provoking. A heart felt thank you for the inspired moment of inner reflection.
Thank you! May it inspire writing of your own! 🙂
This poem is alive! I mean it. Each time I read it, it reaches out, grabs my shirt and says, “You’re never going to be Peter Jennings’ Person of the Week.” (I know . . . I’m stuck in the ’80s). It’s time to be okay with where I am. I’d love to play.
P.S. – Love the quote above the comment box. Might have to steal it and post it on my office door.
Oooooh! Love that! I definitely hope you play! It’s kind of a cathartic little exercise, I found.
Ahhh…Peter Jennings…sigh… I can’t wait to read your turning point to okayness!
And feel free to steal that quote. It’d make a perfect wordswag or picmonkey or whatever meme-generator-you-choose-to-use product! I wish I knew the name of the guy at the kiln, but I don’t know that I ever learned it. I just borrowed his wisdom.
That’s a beautiful poem. My heart lurched on the verse about the apple pie. I can only imagine, as a child, how heartbreaking and frustrating that must have been for you. A great poem. 🙂
Aw, thank you so much, Alex! It felt fairly tragic at the time, but we salvaged the part untouched by the floor and ate it anyway. And it was good, if Mom’s stories are to be believed. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.
I loved this the first time I read it (from concept to implementation I would add…) and it’s hard to pick out what I love best about it overall. Would you settle for I love all of it? Nope, I just checked again and I really can’t choose one part over another it is that complete IMO and I hope we have your permission to post this when the time comes.
That’s fierce praise! Thank you so much! When the time comes? Do you mean when I knock off and need a ready-made obit? Heck, yeah! Go for it! 😉
Damn. “They can note … how the majority of my tall furniture remained / unbolted to the walls” This is beautiful and heartbreaking and courageous. Your best is way better than this world deserves.
Gawd, I’m blushing now! Thank you for these incredibly kind words, Christine! It’s always such extreme pleasure for me to see which lines/images resonate with different people. Thank you.
I’ve tried and tried to choose favorite bits here, but that’s impossible. It sends me from “mmm” to chuckling to near tears and then back to “mmm.” Just beautifully done. I don’t know how we can read this and not ponder our own version. Now if mine could just come out this…uh…poetic : )
Can’t wait to read your own version! Let me know when you post it! And honestly, I’d prefer substantial and prose-y to poetic and shallow. Thank you for your kind comments and support!
I like this more and more with each reading. Like others have said before me (and far more eloquently), I can’t pick just one thing to focus on. I feel a little bit like a BB in a cocoa tin, bouncing from one thing to another, saying “Ooh! Pretty!” and “Shiny” and “Oh. Bummer – but I like that, too.”
It has a little bit of that “no one remembers when we get it right but no one forgets it when we screw up” feel, but a whole lot more playful and conversational.
Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for the invitation!
Hah! That’s a great simile–a BB in a cocoa tin! Love that!
It’s totally that ‘negative supersedes positive’ thing. I hate that. I think it’s unfair. That’s why I love that Trommer fought back…and it made me want to fight back a little, too. Ya gonna play?
Love it. Such sweet relief from the culture of relentless self-improvement (aka relentless self-judgement). Can feel it in my body.
OMG, Valerie, that is so beautiful! I love that release! I hope you end up trying a poem/response of your own, whether you share it or not! 🙂
You inspired me. Your poem is so beautiful. So powerful. I will play with the prompt, though I probably will not share it anywhere. I have to give them some thing to say I my obituary…”she wrote poems that were never read…” Thanks for your poem and your challenge to write one of our own!
I am SO glad you’ll play–whether you share it or not, though I *will* say that you’ll find no judgment here. Playground only, no judgment. 🙂
I’m dying, though: “she wrote poems that were never read.” Hahahahaha! I hope that doesn’t remain true.
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