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where I'm from

I am from halfway up the hill, just before the bend; from the top of the monkey bars and from the corner of the kitchen floor in my grandmother’s arms, from serviceable furniture and serviceable women in serviceable clothes, from B94 and Dead Man’s Curve and spaghetti kept warm in Corningware dishes.

I am from the eyrie-room on Fifth Avenue, sealed off from the world by a slammable door, stickysteamy in summer. I am from three different kinds of plywood paneling under one roof, from the nightmare shower, from secrets scrawled on board-game pieces and pictures of the departed in their caskets. I am from the room above the room where the ghost-woman’s teeth chattered from their hiding place within the walls, keeping little girls awake till morning.

I am from the north-flowing river, the hillside where the giants lived, the woods that ensnared small children, the walk over the hill to the baseball diamond, the walk down the hill to the football field, the bike ride down Hillman to the creek. I am from yew-tree berries, which you must not eat.

I am from fire-truck Santas and candle-lit thunderstorm vigils, from laundry-line badminton nets, from books left on my bed without comment, from the teacup that held eyeliner and cream-rouge, from a transcript of Donahue hidden in a closet, from Willie, from Whiteds and Wagners. I’m from the trailblazers and the lost, from jokesters and glumsters. I am from black-and-gold blood and Terrible Towels. I am from peach Nikes and peach Chucks and an orange banana-seat bike.

I’m from laughing to keep from crying and sticks of Doublemint gum taped into a birthday card and a half-glass of wine in a jelly-jar glass; from eat up over and wehr-de-wuh and that is not what they mean by “special” and you can do anything you want and there’s a time and a place.

I am from the creak of the kneeler and Father Leger’s trembling hands, from rent bodies and miracles, from the sign of peace and the slip of beads through my fingers. I am from ritual for the sake of ritual, for prayers of obeisance instead of guidance. I am from the grand delusion that cannot hide in Latin anymore.

I am from Bisottis and Ghilanis, from a bend in the river that looks like the old country, from secret-recipe chicken and polenta spread over the ceramic table to cool, polenta with coins hidden inside for the children. I am from last daughters and last things. I am from a lost farmhouse and a sheet for a movie screen and a brass bed. I am from the lies you tell to make things work.

From the day Lena was Lucy, from a flying softball bat and a lost tooth, from a safety belt that was not safe at all. From whiskey. From the box and then the bigger box and then the even bigger box, where I kept pictures and letters and things I could not let go, the box I took across the state and then south and then west and then north and then back east again, stopping shy of a circle like the Diné taught me. I am from the unclosed, the wide open, the in progress, a good place for lost people and last daughters. I am from story, from showing-not-telling, from survival, somehow, of almost anything.


Schmutzie wrote one of these last week, and I immediately knew I would write one as soon as I could. There are a bunch of wonderful versions linked at the bottom of her page, and you should definitely check them out. It’s based on this exercise, which is based on this poem by George Ella Lyons. More fabulous examples: here, here, and here.