Sunday, July 4, 2010

Poetry Prompt #12 - What We Keep

Along with our memories, tangible objects sometimes help us maintain connection and continuity by preserving the past and speaking to the future.

When my mom passed away, twelve years ago this month, I brought many of her things home to my house. Of the items I treasure most are the small things that she used every day – familiar, humble things. Among them are the salt and pepper shakers from her kitchen – not her crystal, silver-topped antiques, but the dime store set that was part of her daily life. These casual items have become personal and meaningful treasures. 

What have you kept that belonged to another time, another place, another person? Why did you keep it? Why do you feel “close” to it? Write a poem about something you keep and treasure because of its connection to someone you loved, a special place, a time in your life that you miss.


  1. Poem based on above prompt


    I also want to write about getting my mother's artifacts rejected by one of the Holocaust Museums- The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. It's actually a very good museum. Rejection makes you feel like a less significant Jew, less than equal, an artificial Jew, a footnote to footnotes. Isn't that what all Jews are supposed to be about? I need connections for the Holocaust? Who is nuts enough to want to identify with its victims? It's like my mother's family couldn't be gassed or gunned down properly, as if their bodies wouldn't cooperate and slump down neatly. It's likely Romanian collaborators gunned them down, judging by troop movement maps at the Holocaust Museum in DC. My mother took the story with her to the grave. She probably thought it was too awful to tell me when I was a kid and she was probably right. Then she didn't want to be reminded anymore.

    I have a letter from one of her sisters, handwritten in Yiddish. Her sister, in the letter, thought it was important to include the words to a love song popular at the time in Romania. Mail was possible from 1939 through December, 1941, the US officially neutral. I have photos of her sisters and a cousin with some friends at a public park. These are attractive kids, late teens, early 20s. It could have been Central Park, young adults side-by-side, one of them smiling. I read in a book by Professor Dawidowicz that the Iron Guard with their taste for blood could even make Nazis turn their heads away. I have my mother's Immigration and Naturalization certificate, her Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen, and a Certificate of Literacy issued by the New York State Department of Education. In the Declaration, above her signature, she had to renounce allegiance to all foreign powers, princes, potentates and forswear the practice of polygamy.

  2. Poem inspired by Prompt #12


    Every morning I check in
    with a sliver of Sedona
    soap on the shower shelf—
    cracked, spotted, still fragrant.

    With a sliver of Sedona
    tucked behind my third eye,
    cracked, spotty, still fragrant
    memories nourish me.

    Tucked behind my third eye
    bright blues and yellows swirl,
    memories nourish me—
    I float in a Watsu bath.

    Bright blues and yellows swirl.
    Arms guide and cradle me.
    I float in a Watsu bath,
    my eyes lightly closed.

    Arms guide and cradle me,
    teach me safety and trust.
    My eyes lightly closed,
    fear and worry disappear.

    Teach me safety and trust,
    how to live and let slide.
    Fear and worry disappear.
    Dream whenever you can.

    How to live and let slide—
    soap on the shower shelf.
    Dream whenever you can.
    Every morning I check in.

    Copyright © 2010 by Wendy Rosenberg. All rights reserved.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your poems! It's wonderful to see how you've used this prompt.

    bloom306: Those family "artifacts" are priceless treasures; thanks for sharing them with us.

    pisces28: The sliver of soap you saved is an amazing metaphor for emotional "cleansing" and tranquility; thanks for sharing.

  4. Poem inspired by Prompt #12


    On my trip home for her funeral, I visit
    the place she lived when father died -- before
    dementia ravaged her mind. In the dusty

    unlived apartment, I pick her leather coin
    wallet from the table where unframed photos
    curl and turn brown. The coins inside it,

    of no value now, are emotional currency –
    paybacks for days she traveled to distant farmers’
    markets to buy fresh vegetables for my favorite meals

    each time I came back from America. Now, I bring
    the wallet to the States and keep it in my
    closet, next to a wall with a crudely re-colored

    photo of her as a young woman.
    She looks at me when I touch her wallet on
    Saturday mornings -- my place-holder for

    wordless conversations about our life together:
    laughter, life-relish and cooking prowess
    -- the way I remember her best.

    Copyright © 2010 by Basil Rouskas. All rights reserved.

  5. Thanks, Basil! A wonderful poem. "Emotional currency" – yes, that's what this prompt is about.

  6. I am going through your prompts in day order so I come to this one today. Although I am challenging myself to write a new piece about something I've kept, I find I've already written a poem along these lines. It came 'unprompted' during the days we were cleaning out Mom's apartment after she died on 2006. I'll share it here:


    Your things
    from clothes to china mug
    to paper snippets and crumpled Kleenexes
    under the recliner
    have all been carted away.

    Your room
    once signature with pictures, pillows
    pill bottles and plants
    has been stripped to anonymity.

    Now I am obliterating you
    in other ways
    cutting up credit cards
    removing your name from mailing lists
    canceling, erasing, rubbing you out.

    But the hole of you
    is much more
    than empty

    How easily I fall into it --
    that once-warm spot where you lived
    replaced by a now-familiar
    cold ache

    though I have salvaged
    several of your sweaters
    to wrap me in their arms.

    © 2007 by Violet Nesdoly - All rights reserved

  7. Thanks for sharing, Violet.

    I remember that feeling -- the sense of emptiness and presence at the same time -- when I had to empty my mom's home after she died. I kept several sweaters too (still have them).

    Thanks again!