NaPoWriMo, Day 21.8 (Day 29 for Everyone Else)

This poem is based on Rachel McKibbens’s intriguing exercise #75.

SURVIVALIST

It was during Nixon that Dad peached away
commercial-size cans of chili
and during Ford that he silvered down coffee cans
full of the heavy, quiet coins.

Dad lectured us over dinners
how to barter them when the crash came,
forbade us ever to tell of these commodities
waiting patient as spiders in our secret crawlspace.

He said the crisis would pit every family
against every other, and when the worst
happened to him–as it would someday anyway–
we were to defend our coins and canned goods

with our own little lives, since on those goods
our lives would depend.

So I thought to supplement with my own
secret stash, since I didn’t know just how deep that pitting
might dig. But when I went to gather up my trust, my safety,
my faith that anyone would think to take care of me,

I found they’d already been stolen. Instead I gathered crackers
and baggies of salted sunflower seeds, and summered
my third-grade year high in our backyard willow.
From there, I commanded a view of neighbors’ houses

and warned away my old friend Tracie. My little brother, too,
unable to climb as high, was consigned to the chaos and Commies.
I missed our German Shepherd, so I built a harness and pulley
to haul King up to the broad branch

where I camped. I winched up kibble for him, too,
and did not mind the magpies swooping for it.

Through the summer, I became a rough-barked dictator
sticky with willow sap and independence
on my leafy island. I controlled my own economy
and the comings and goings of a sizeable dog.

In the silent, often-anxious hours
between magpies yelling me their anthems
and ants bearing tribute of shiny beetle shells,
I pondered the twinned rivalry

between power and vulnerability
and concluded I wanted neither.
Yet I keep that summer socked away still
among the webs of memory

in case, in a crisis, I am forced
to defend it.

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16 comments on “NaPoWriMo, Day 21.8 (Day 29 for Everyone Else)

  1. Doug says:

    more wonder and poem’in where with all here.. skill and range

  2. cupcakemurphy says:

    This was incredible.

    • Thank you, Cupcake!

      So was Mr. Cupcake (?) as Defender-Ninja. I nearly jumped out of my skin!

      That’s probably not what you meant, though. Anyway, I so appreciate your appreciation.

  3. jik says:

    oh Jennifer…magnificent, poignant, resonant!

  4. worldsasmyth says:

    Some great turns-of-phrase in this one. Very much enjoyed the imagery, particularly: “…silvered down coffee cans…” and “…tribute of shiny beetle shells…”.

    • Thank you so much! Somehow, it seems easier to grasp those sensory details in memories of childhood. Maybe our filters are thinner then, so it’s those images that really stay with us through time.

      I sure appreciate your commenting, and I really enjoyed your poems this month!

  5. I like “peached away.” Well, there’s much I like other than that phrase, too. So true, how a child takes a parent’s obsession and creates his/her own version of it.

    • Thank you, Marilyn. I’m trying to think of any other kids I knew whose parents were obsessed with an economic crash. In the ’70s, it was far more rational to be paranoid over getting nuked!

  6. I really appreciate your style, voice, and the complexity spread in simplicity Jennifer. Well done and thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you very much, Reno.

      Hey, did I tell you that I grew up in Reno, Nevada? I loved having so many things to do outdoors there as a kid–hiking, camping, skiing (it was even affordable way back when!) in the Sierras & near Lake Tahoe. Lots to explore in the desert as well: ghost towns, ranches, salt marshes. I see you’re a Texan now, but I keep meaning to tell you I enjoy your name as a happy reminder of The Silver State.

      • Hey Jennifer, My father lived in Vegas when he passed away in 2001. My mother resides in Carson City and I have a sister in Reno. I was just there in November. My father and I used to stay in my uncles house in Tahoe city every year so I am very familiar with the area. My daughter and I got to see wild horses the last time I was in Reno. I love the Sierra, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Tioga, MarkleeVille. All awesome places I have backpacked and spent time exploring in. – Thanks for the share.

  7. Sweet memories and lessons learned.

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