Jaybirds and Grandmothers


Discover Something New Every Day: The Challenge

Today’s discovery took some digging. The challenge comes from Denton Loving by way of his experiences at a recent fiction workshop where he was asked to write a “manifesto”—which in this case meant to identify and list the recurring elements, emblems, beliefs, intentions, motives, and/or opinions in your own creative work. For example, Denton identified in his own fiction the repetition of cows, dirt, lawnmowers, birds, and some kind of technology or modern gadget.

This challenge invited me to revisit some of my poems, and I did discover some recurring themes: redbirds, crows, dogs, wood, trees, hymns, kitchens, paralysis, soap, song lyrics, jaybirds and grandmothers. Some of these emblems are easy for me to explain, some are mysterious, and some are both. For instance, in my very first college creative writing class, my teacher (poet Jeff Daniel Marion) asked us on the first day of class to write a short piece in which we remembered our grandparents. Both of my grandfathers died before my parents were married, but my grandmothers were a daily part of my growing up. It was easy to explain my relationships with them, yet 25 years after that first writing class, I am still not finished with my grandmothers. They visit in my dreams, talking constantly, directing my beliefs and actions; they remain a mysterious force in my life. Even now in my current writing projects, as I try to leave them behind and out of this work, they sneak in and boss me around.

Here is one of my early poems that illustrates my mystery of grandmothers:

Tree Rings

When they meet me in my dreams, I do
what they say. We are encircled now, all

living together, my grandmothers and me.
Down dim paneled hallways I follow obediently

behind them. I answer their telephones in knotty
pine nooks. Those black eyes know

me. I hear their boarders walking over
our heads and I’m sent up the mahogany stair

case to collect the rent. I stand at the oak
door and knock. We are willow and birch,

enchanted and renewed; apple and blackthorn,
blossoms with sharp spines. We are the bristle cone pine

in the desert, older than Methuselah. We are
the crone living in the elderberry shrub, straggly

and unruly in old age. We can grow anywhere
working strong earth magic, avenging, punishing.

We are the yew, adored above all others, screening
the doorway between this life and the next.

What is your writing manifesto? Be sure to check Denton’s post for his suggestions about using your emblems in a couple of writing exercises.

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