In Punjab, sixteen-year-old Pari
Rolled her eyes at her new birthday sari.
She was more than just miffed
At the practical gift,
Since she’d asked Daddy for a Ferrari!
When the cancer had eaten its fill,
Little was left of Dad.
He was diminished
And oh, he had been handsome
Just ask Mom
She recalled wistfully his dark hair
And fine looks vaguely reminiscent of Elvis
A real catch
To me, he was ruddy and practical
Middle aged paunch and square glasses
But the disease made us both liars
He was shrunken
I was fourteen, the years in my life
Equal to the months in his death
I was fourteen, primed for my moment
In the spotlight of adolescence
But really of little use or effect
In our current circumstance
Which was dire
My brothers were older
I couldn’t drive to hospital visits
Or take on part time work
Fourteen was a nuisance who still needed tending
Who couldn’t be trusted
Or leaned upon
When the end could not be postponed
There arose the matter of clothes
My brothers were excused
Because they could drive
Because they could work
So this was my job
After all, what fourteen-year-old girl
Doesn’t like to shop
We spoke in a secret language:
Easter is coming, said Mom
And Dad needs a new suit
She knew the code
The clerk knew
I sat on a stool in the corner
Watching the arrayal
Knowing the casket was ready
A drape of ivory satin
A touch of dogwood carving
Our clerk was equal to the task
Offered up tweeds, checks, herringbones
Double breasted and single
How do I look? asked Dad
So I pictured him dressed and
Resting against that satin pillow
When the suit had been procured
Wine-colored and plaid
It was the 1970’s
Just ask anyone
We turned our attention to dresses
From the only posh shop in our rural town
A real treat
This time there was no secret code
After all, what would be the point?
We’d grown tired of pretending
And asked for something funereal
The sales girl was honored
You might wear this outfit again
She suggested helpfully
And oh, I scoffed
What woman would wear again a dress
That had seen her husband sent to the life beyond?
We would burn them
Mom’s sedate black and white-jacketed ensemble
With mine of light blue and green
Burn and bury the memories
Salt the earth afterward
But of course we didn’t
There would be no fire
When those days had passed into the past
Little was left to say
We were exhausted
And needed to move ahead
As survivors must
The funeral clothes occupied awkward space
Between artifact and awful reminder
My brothers, who had simply called on existing garments
Lost their leisure suits to merciful obsolescence|
Mom’s widow costume reverently wrapped in white tissue
Put away, neither seen nor forgotten
My blue and green frock donated to charity
But there is plaid
He found her crumpled and discarded
As though for a strong gust
To sweep her away
Or for a lighted match
To consume her
He found her curious and compelling
As if constructed from
His own missing parts
Or bits of brightly colored
She was dissonance and eloquence
Surrounded by crimson velvet cords
And flashing yellow lights
Yet he reached out one wishful hand
Until, fiercely, she withdrew
A frightened anemone
Too soon the words formed in his mouth
And would not remain hidden from her ear
She swatted at the syllables, though he longed
To capture them like fireflies in a jar
To marvel at how they sparkled:
—I care for you.
She wept: “I’m damaged. I’m incomplete.
What do you want from me?”
—I’ll take what I can get.
She dared: “You’ll take what I give you!”
–Whatever you give me– I’ll take it.
A promise was made
He kept his eyes down and his hours busy
At how the sidewalk cracks
Led straight to her door
And how his morning coffee
Was dark like her voice
She trembled; he dreamed of the time she would
Tremble around him
So mercurial; she was silvery slick
And always changing
But true to his promise
He remained steadfast
Through days that pulsed with her heartbeat
And nights haunted by her ghosts
He breathed it all in
Watched her eyes for angels
Until there in the tickling grass
She rested her head on his shoulder
With his hat and a kiss from Aunt Lu
He arrived from the Darkest Peru
Proper Paddington Bear
Had a “special hard stare”
That would wilt Rupert, Fozzie, or Pooh.
Note: A friend challenged me to write limericks for as many different countries as I could. Challenge accepted. Read the whole series, make suggestions and cheer me on here.
Such a conundrum.
Such a pretty face.
Such character, such charm;
But oh, such a shame.
A figure defined
In figures of speech:
Big as a house,
Looks like a cow.
The lady adjacent
Conceals her eyes
But not her disgust,
Afraid of contagion,
As though my rounded knee
Might infect her muscled one
As though I’m a virus,
As though I’m a disease.
I offend by requiring
More space than I’m allowed,
More space than I deserve,
And offer recompense
With a blitheness of spirit,
A lightness of humor,
A hope to sow comfort
Where judgment might take root.
Faced with a mirror
I conceal my eyes
But not my sadness,
Afraid I’m lost forever–
A fragile heart pumping
Deep inside a flesh cocoon;
Protection and rejection
In layers spread with loathing.
Just do it, I tell myself,
As though it were just that easy,
As the woman entombed within
Begs not to be forgotten.
Such a puzzlement.
Such a pleasant girl,
But still, such a waste.
There’s an oft repeated tale from the world of literature. The great Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in just six words. Challenge accepted. Hemingway returned with what he later said was his best work ever:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
What made Hemingway’s six word story so power was not what it said (although those six words were evocative), but what it didn’t say. Readers were free to fill in the gaps with their own supposings. What baby? Who is the story about? Why weren’t the shoes worn?
Years later, I used Hemingway’s story as inspiration for a writing lesson. Smith Magazine had challenged readers to submit their own six word memoirs, telling their life’s story in exactly six words. As a middle school teacher, I knew two things about my students: They wanted to be heard, and they were daunted by lengthy writing tasks. So why not extend the six word memoir challenge to them? Challenge accepted.
Click the link above to see an original slideshow of six word memoirs written by eighth graders*. Warning: The slideshow will load slowly, so get a cuppa joe and relax. Or if you’re a busy person with no time to wait, you can check out a version of the slideshow adapted for youtube by a student who is much cleverer than me:
See– I told you they were amazing. Nearly three hundred students wrote pages of six word memoirs so real, so raw, so vibrant, and so meaningful that I will always remember it as one of my best lessons. I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still hear from former students who tell me they will never forget the experience and that they still write the memoirs. As one said, “When you know you have only six words to work with, you make sure every single word is just right and says just what you want it to. You pack a lot into those six words.” I continue to write six word memoirs as well. They’re amazingly therapeutic, especially when paired with just the right illustration.
This blog includes an ongoing collection of my own six word memoirs. Just click the tab at the top of the page, or go here:
Read them, wonder about them, comment, write your own. . . One life. Six words. What’s yours?
* This is just one slideshow showcasing a sample of six word memoirs. I made seven slideshows altogether, and each one was special in its own way.