My blog post will be doing double duty today for Poetry Friday as well as the Slice of Life March Challenge. And, as it is Women’s History Month, I thought I’d reach into memory for a slice of my life that connected to a woman poet. Luckily, I did not have to reach very far, for although the memory is from long ago, I think of it often.
I was very sick as a child, but was lucky in that my aunt was a pediatrician. My father, recently divorced, thought it would be a good idea for me to live with my grandparents who could take care of me 24/7 and (as an added bonus) were not far way from my aunt and her clinic. As sick as I was, I remember this as a golden time in my childhood. My grandparents doted on me, and their gentle ways were just what I needed at that stage of my life. My grandfather was a voracious reader; when I close my eyes and think of him I invariably see him sitting under the shade of the enormous banyan tree next to the house, the tea tray close at hand, and a pile of books and magazines by his side. A retired newspaper editor and journalist, Nana was usually behind a newspaper, reading and clucking and shaking his head at his or that news story. A little chair was always placed by his – mine, to be occupied any time I wished and felt well enough to be outside with him.
Sometimes, I was able to attend first grade at the local school for half the day, and I remember how he’d just know that I had loved the experience – “Give me a report,” he’d encourage, and I’d prattle on about this or that as he’d listen intently and (using his journalistic talents) encourage me to embellish the story, give it details. Often I would share a cup of tea with him, and when I was finished with my story telling, we would both read.
Getting children’s books in Bangalore, India, was not all that easy in those days. Dad would send boxes of new books from Bombay, but I’d get through these and then be bored. Nana sensed my problem, and every once in a while he’d take me into his library, rummage among the musty, leather-bound books, and pick something out for me. Most of these books were much too hard for me – Dickens, “Gulliver’s Travels,” and “The Pilgrims Progress” – but were usually finely illustrated so that I could pore over the pictures and make up stories myself. One day, probably at the end of his rope, he fished out this book:
i.e. “The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson.” The picture inside was of this fascinating looking woman, I didn’t know who Emily was, but I just loved the looks of her. I liked her direct gaze, the steady and proud way she sat, and the clever way she wore a ribbon around her neck (no one I knew did that!)
Most of her poems might as well have been written in Greek…but one I could read and soon memorized:
|I’m Nobody! Who are you?
|by Emily Dickinson
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
I sort of knew what it meant (my grandparents helped here) but I most importantly just loved the way it sounded, especially
because it had been written by this interesting lady.
Now that I am a teacher (and almost the age of my grandparents back then in Bangalore), I've found that my sixth graders
love this poem too - they love puzzling it out, and reciting it, and finding their own 12-year old meaning in it, even as I had done
way back then....or this high school student has in the Favorite Poem Project: