Using Poetry in Memoir

Published May 18, 2012 by Ms. Nine

     Have you started writing your memoir yet?  Don’t worry, only death knows your due date.  Don’t be like me, though, or your memoir will become a permanent WIP.  For today, I’m sharing an excerpt from A Child in the ‘60s, my childhood in New England.    In this piece, my brother and I were scouring the empty field after the circus left. We were looking for loose change.  Even though we didn’t find any money, we found an item of great value.   What if the item became the speaker in a poem?  Check it out at the end of this excerpt.    

      ….“Hey, look what I found!”  Ricky’s exuberant squeal echoed to the Ten Mile River and back.  Of course, all the other scavengers’ heads poked up like prairie dogs.  A few scrambled over to inspect the find and turned away groaning in disbelief and disinterest.

      Ricky discovered two rubber cables about forty feet long that smelled like tires.  “These were used to hold down the elephants. See how thick and strong they are?” He spoke with the imagined authority of an eight year old boy…

     “Hey Ricky, we can use these elephant cables to make a swing in the oak tree! We could swing as high as we wanted and not have to worry about tipping the swing set over!” 

     Eyes widening, head nodding with the vigor of a puppy’s hind leg scratching at fleas, Ricky instantly liked the idea.  By the time he and I dragged those cables home to the oak tree, our hands were black….

     “Okay, Di. Who gets to go first on the swing?”  Oh, the dreaded “who goes first” question. Every child knows many ways to resolve this dilemma. There’s the toss the coin method (we didn’t have any), the Rock Paper Scissors method, the eeny-meenie-miney-mo method, the fist fight method, and honest-to-goodness trickery.

     Until that moment, I hadn’t considered how I would construct the swing.  Now I realized the easiest way was to get my brother to do the stupid stuff – like straddle a limb thirty feet from the ground and tie two tent cables to it.  For those of you who doubt, a ten year old girl is a highly trained negotiator.

     “You go first, of course.  After all, you found them, even though it was my idea. But first we have to figure out how we’re going to do this…. The only way we’ll have a swing is if we do it ourselves…Ricky, do you think you can climb up the tree and tie the cables to that branch?” I pointed up. Way up.

     “Sure! I’ve climbed the tree lots of times. I’ve even gone way higher than that branch! I know I can do it, Di!” He was practically begging me to give him the go-ahead.

      A child never thinks about danger or putting others in danger…. I accepted his confident yes and shared with him the next logical step in the plan. “Great! While you’re doing that, I’ll look in the barn for a piece of scrap wood for the seat.  Be careful on that branch. ”  

     It was easy to find scrap wood in the barn… [Dad] never threw anything away “just in case”.  Thank-you, Dad.  When I returned with a sturdy three foot plank, two black rubber cables dangled from the oak tree... Together we tied the cables to the plank, twisting and positioning the knots to make the seat level..  Astonished and pleased at our own creation, we glanced at each other and grinned. Was it as safe and sturdy as it looked?  I didn’t admit it to myself then, but I felt relieved that Ricky was trying it out first.

                He reached up and grabbed the cables, hoisting himself onto the seat…  He pulled and stretched, pulled and stretched, until he soared high enough to see the tops of our neighbor’s chicken coops behind the hill.  I watched him with envy for the immense joy he was surely feeling.  I consoled myself knowing that my turn was coming, even though the length of a “turn” had not been negotiated.  Sure enough, within five minutes, he vomited from too much velocity and motion.  Red-faced and silent, he ran to the house.  I yelled for him, but he kept running.  I wanted to call out “Don’t tell Mom!” as I watched him slam the door, but the swing was empty and it was, after all, my turn by default.  With mixed feelings, I latched on to the swing as it unofficially became mine.

     Throughout my years on 975 South Main Street, I would spend more hours on that swing than any other place.  And it wouldn’t be the last time my brother would stretch himself out on a limb for me.


A Second Chance

I can’t stretch any more

The wind snaps the flaps of the tent

pulling me from both ends.


I’m down now, in the dirt.

Part of me hither, then yon

Bendable but unmendable.

Useless thus abandoned


I’m dragged by tender fingers

Parts of me taken by two

Who? Where? Far from elephants


I hang in split symmetry

Soft fingers still hold me

Back and forth to the sky


Thanks for stopping by.  Now write that memoir!


3 comments on “Using Poetry in Memoir

  • I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I am quite certain I’ll learn lots of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

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