Who is your new Poet Laura?
The first thing you might notice is my name isn’t Laura. Not that I haven’t wished it was. Luckily, the Poet Laura can be a Karen (but the lover-of-chickens type of Karen, not the bad-meme Karen). And wishing my name was Laura is one of the criteria for the job.So here I am vowing publicly to uphold the Poet Laura tradition for one year. The number one requirement is to “read a poem every weekday and encourage others to do the same.” Wow, easy-peasy! In addition to having a poetry book or journal in almost every room of the house, I get poems delivered to my inbox from Tweetspeak’s Every Day Poems, The Writers’ Almanac (and can hear Garrison Keillor read), and The Slowdown (and can hear Ada Limón discuss and read). A friend often sends me the Paris Review email also. There are so many other daily poem options, and I encourage you to subscribe to one or more if you haven’t already. And, I’ll make it easy for you to read a poem today by giving you a poem right here! It will tell you a little more about me.
The L-Shaped House, Packard Avenue, Flint, Michigan
I grew up on Do the Watusi on the jukebox at Angelo’s,
and a bike looping along
sidewalk and driveway—I was Andretti
but obeyed stop signs my brother chalked
on the pavement.
My Barbie wore homemade dresses,
and boys picked me because I could bat.
There was the Easter hat, carnation corsage,
on an empty stomach, wine digging a hot path—
throat to belly, while we sang, Mnogaya Leta!
God grant us many years!
My breath is Klashoff and Papazoff with rags
for shoes in winters beneath Baba Mountain.
Bortkevitch and Ryan, Russian ships
and Newcastle’s bagpipes on Saturdays,
a tailor’s even stitches, a prudish mother’s fear
of disgrace (we necked with boys anyway),
the expectation of all-As at Bentley High
and anxiety. But still, the family cracked up
at Carol Burnett on Sunday nights.
Our house hid a half-acre backyard
with a rusty red swing set, woods running
way back to the train track.
We weren’t supposed to play there but waved
to cabooses and left
pennies for engines to flatten—never found them.
I am school portraits with cat-eye glasses
and VP headshots, from moments quivering
like fruit-dotted Jell-O topped with Cool Whip
to the blended flavors
of lamb munga cooked all day.
I sweat Baltic and Pacific salt,
the sweet grit of Great Lakes sand, and now,
in the last quarter of my life,
I’ve got feet held firm in red Georgia clay.
— Karen Paul Holmes (modified version of a poem that first appeared in the Dunes Review)
By way of explanation, my mother was born in Australia to a Russian father and an Irish mother. My father was a Macedonian who emigrated to the U.S. as a teen, eventually joined the Navy, and met my mother Down Under. She came to the U.S. on a converted war ship after WWII to marry him. They were together until death did them part, more than 50 years later. Neither one had a college education, but boy did I ever learn from them and from the melting pot of cultures in which I grew up.
The idea for my poem came from a rather famous Where I’m From prompt developed by former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Where are you from, metaphorically and geographically? You can write about it and even submit a poem to the I Am From Project, where you can also read George Ella’s poem.
Speaking of origins, Tweetspeak has been around since 2009! L.L. Barkat was the original Laura involved, and she has since carried it forward with passion. I’m thankful to the other Poet Lauras for coming before me with aplomb. I am gobsmacked to be a not-Laura who gets to be a Laura and spread the good news of poetry. Whether it’s with chicken poems, chocolate poems, tea poems, or any other poetry ponderings, I vow to put my heart and humor into this monthly post. My wish is that it does your poetry heart good.
Try It: “Where I’m From” Poetry Prompt
Where are you from, metaphorically and geographically? Write about it with colorful details and even dialog, then share with us in the comment box below. Want to go further? Consider submitting your poem to the I Am From Project. Email your entry to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our “Where I’m From” Poetry Cloud