Poetry Friday is hosted today by Irene Latham @ Live Your Poem. Join us!
Any day now, I expect to receive my own copy of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. Everyone who has had a chance to read advance copies has raved about it, which only adds to my own sense of excitement and anticipation. In the meantime, I’ve been reading and re-reading Woodson’s earlier books, especially her stunning chapter books around which I hope to frame book clubs and read alouds this school year, as I wait for Brown Girl Dreaming to arrive.
I was in the midst of reading Hush, when Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Mo. – fact and fiction came together in a most eerie way. Hush is the story of Evie, whose life is turned upside down when her father, a police officer, feels compelled to tell the truth about his fellow officers who gunned down an unarmed young man (here’s where what I was reading in the news and what I was reading in Woodson’s story dovetailed so chillingly) forcing the family to leave behind their happy lives in Denver for a dreary and anonymous one as part of the Federal witness program.
In interview after interview, Woodson speaks of being inspired to write, in part, because she saw herself in so few of the books she was reading as a child and a young adult. In one of these interviews, she says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that she felt this absence become her mission as a writer: the books don’t exist because she was meant to write them. In many of the conversations I have had and heard over the events in Ferguson, I’ve felt such a disconnect between the experiences of the African American citizens of that town and the white police officers and elected officials – a disconnect that seems to echo in the conversations we’ve been having across the country and in the news media, as well. This is why it is important to have authors like Woodson and the late, great Walter Dean Myers represented in our classroom libraries, whether we have African American students in our classrooms or not (in the ten years I have taught at my current school, I average one African American student every four years); and the same can be said of Sandra Cisneros or Pam Munoz Ryan or Sherman Alexie – our libraries need to represent all the experiences of our diverse country. My hope this year, especially, is to be much more intentional about encouraging my students to read these books, and much more intentional about discussing them, as well.
The gift of Woodson’s stories, though, is the lyricism with which she writes. I’ve just finished Locomotion (here’s the back cover blurb):
When Lonnie was seven years old, his parents died in a fire. Now he’s eleven, and he still misses them terribly. And he misses his little sister, Lili, who was put into a different foster home because “not a lot of people want boys-not foster boys that ain’t babies.” But Lonnie hasn’t given up. His foster mother, Miss Edna, is growing on him. She’s already raised two sons and she seems to know what makes them tick. And his teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper. Told entirely through Lonnie’s poetry, we see his heartbreak over his lost family, his thoughtful perspective on the world around him, and most of all his love for Lili and his determination to one day put at least half of their family back together.
And here’s one of my favorite poems/passages, which I’d like to share this Poetry Friday:
Some days, like today
and yesterday and probably
tomorrow all my missing gets jumbled up inside of me.
You know honeysuckle talc powder?
Mama used to smell like that. She told me
honeysuckle’s really a flower but all I know
is the powder that smells like Mama.
Sometimes when the missing gets real bad
I go to the drugstore and before the guard starts
following me around like I’m gonna steal something
I go to the cosmetics lady and ask her if she has it.
When she says yeah, I say
Can I smell it to see if it’s the right one?
Even though the cosmetics ladies roll their eyes at me
they let me smell it.
And for those few seconds, Mama’s alive
And I’m remembering
all kinds of good things about her like
the way she laughed at my jokes
even when they were dumb
and the way she sometimes just grabbed me
and hugged me before
I had a chance to get away.
And the way her voice always sounded good
and bad at the same time when she was singing
in the shower.
And her red pocketbook that always had some
tangerine Life Savers inside it for me and Lili
No, I say to the cosmetics lady. It’s not the right one.
And then I leave fast.
Before somebody asks to check my pockets
which are always empty ’cause I don’t steal.