Le Hinton: Cards Flash Back

This post first appeared on Michael Dickel’s blog as part of April’s Poetry Month postings. Thanks, Michael, for your encouragement and for sharing Le Hinton’s fine poem.

 

Le Hinton is a great friend and an inspiring poet. I met him several years ago when he was a featured reader in a local poetry series, and I was struck by the heart that comes through in his work. Besides Le’s ability to convey powerful emotional experiences in his poems, one of the things that I most admire is his willingness to share his expertise with other poets. Last fall, we both presented at a poetry retreat where Le did a wonderful session on playing with form in poetry. He talked about linebreaks, staggering lines, and unexpected arrangements as tools for enhancing the power of a poem. In this post, I explore a few examples from one of my favorite Le Hinton poems and urge you to give one or two of these techniques a try.

In Le’s poem “Cards Flash Back,” the reader sits next to Le as he remembers his time in speech therapy sessions as a child born with a cleft palate. Interspersed with his memories are some of the things his classmates said to him that still sting so many years later.

You sound like toilet
paper is stuck in your nose.

You’d have a good singing voice
if you were a cartoon character.

Using a few lines of dialog, Le takes us back in time to experience the pain he felt as a child who struggled to speak.

Another technique that Le uses with great effect is to stagger his lines to emphasize meaning. As you read the last three lines of the stanza below, you are commanded to slow down and let the power of his words sink in. The image of hiding in the pages—silent—almost foreshadows Le’s work as a poet—a master of words.

“I hid in the pages. Silent.
But not empty. The page isn’t blank.
Chisel a life from a sheet.
Hold tangible the words on paper
Hold something.
Be someone.
Do something.”

Finally, Le brings the reader into the present where he has triumphed over his physical and psychological challenges and reaches back in time to embrace and kiss the baby smiling and the little boy who sang alone. He triumphs over the bullies of the past and brings us into his circle of celebration where he stands as an adult who has not only mastered his speech, but also the power of the spoken word. He ends where he began, playing with the words apple, book, and thumb and the idea of flashcards in his memory.

“I’ve learned to speak out and still write.
To hold the little boy whose voice sings alone.
To kiss the tiny baby whose lips still smile.
Write the poetry and shout the words
Small no more.
Now without pain,
without bullies,
without fear
or a cleft palate.

Apple. Book. Thumb. I remember.

Here is Le Hinton’s poem in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it.

Cards Flash   Back ~ Le Hinton ~ The Language of Moisture and Light, 2014

Apple, book, thumb. I remember
each card with three pictures.
Pronounce each one, slowly,
precisely. Initial consonants.
Final blends.
Open vowels.
b’s, th’s, o’s. Each carefully articulated.

You sound like toilet
paper is stuck in your nose.

You’d have a good singing voice
if you were a cartoon character.

I learned to be quiet, I learned to write.

On our way to the clinic there was always time
for breakfast at the Cameron Street diner
or a stop for hot dogs after we arrived in Lancaster.
The corner of Lime and King.
A town full of fruit and royalty.
Lemon, Lime, Orange.
Queen, King, Duke.
All streets seemingly one way.

One way to speak.
One way to sound.
One way to turn.
This clinic in this town
with its one-way streets
and hope dressed in white,
doctors dressed in smiles.
Surgical cuts to open a future, to open a life.

Once, it rained so hard getting there, Dad almost stopped.
But dad never stopped driving, never stopped caring,
never stopped steering. Not for hard rain,
heavy traffic, or an imperfect son. Dad never stopped.
I remember those drops of rain falling through a bright sun,
bouncing like marbles off 60s sheet metal,
now baring memories almost 40 years old.

I have to babysit on Saturday, so I
can’t go out with you.

You’d never know that colored boy
was smart from the way he sounds.

I hid in the pages. Silent.
But not empty. The page isn’t blank.
Chisel a life from a sheet.
Hold tangible the words on paper
Hold something.
Be someone.
Do something.

Find the words that take you in,
Find the words that love you safe.
Caress those words.

I’ve learned to speak out and still write.

To hold the little boy whose voice sings alone.
To kiss the tiny baby whose lips still smile.
Write the poetry and shout the words
Small no more.
Now without pain,
without bullies,
without fear
or a cleft palate.

Apple. Book. Thumb. I remember.

Note: I was unable to keep the original line breaks due to formatting issues. Apologies to Le. 

Poetry for Times of Transition

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, I find myself looking forward to  lots of possibilities as I approach a new transition, a place of threshold in my life. Thresholds are both exciting and terrifying, and I know that one way I have always dealt with them is to fill up the new space before I even get there.

Years ago when I my ex-husband and I were building a new house, I was  excited to decorate the rooms. Before we  sold our old house, I was measuring the new windows, pondering paint colors for the rooms, and selecting fabric for the draperies.  Filled with exciting ideas for new window treatments, I selected patterns and sewed curtains, swags, and valences for every room in the house. After we moved, I had all of the boxes unpacked within three days.  I was ready for company. And I longed for the next project to fill the void inside.

The Unknown Door
The Unknown Door

Luckily, as the years have passed, I have learned to anticipate the shifts that occur. And I know that I need to leave an opening. But just like the anxiety I felt about decorating my house before I  moved in, I want to fill the spaces of my life before I  arrive.  And I know what’s coming up for me is fear of the unknown, fear of not having anything to do.

One way that I manage the looming open space in my life is to read poetry and to journal. I also have decades of experience to fall back on, so I know that new opportunities are always opening up for me.  I am rarely without something to do. Still, I have to marshall all of my resources to refrain from filling up my life before I arrive at the next phase.And one of my my trusted resources is poetry.

Here are two poems I have found useful in times of transition. I hope they speak to you as well.

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale
by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Prospective Immigrants Enter Here
~Adrienne Rich

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
There is always the risk
Of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
And you must look back
And let them happen.

If you do not go through
It is possible
to live worthily.

To maintain your attitudes
To hold your position
To die bravely.

But much will blind you,
Much will evade you,
At what cost who knows?

The door itself
Makes no promises
It is only a door.

Can Poetry Make You Laugh?

Humor in poetry is the next topic of our journey through April–National Poetry Month. Many readers will think about Dr. Seuss, some of you may even remember Ogden Nash, and of course, Shel Silverstein comes to mind when people think about funny poems. But sometimes, there is a serious situation that comes wrapped in a poem–making it more easily digestible. I am offering a two poems for your pleasure from some authors you may or may not recognize. I hope you enjoy them!  Perhaps you’ll even decide to share one as part of Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 21st.

Have you ever laughed about the wording of warnings? Here’s a poem for you!

Warnings

by David Allen Sullivan

A can of self-defense pepper spray says it may
irritate the eyes, while a bathroom heater says it’s
not to be used in bathrooms. I collect warnings
the way I used to collect philosophy quotes.

Wittgenstein’s There’s no such thing
as clear milk
rubs shoulders with a box
of rat poison which has been found
to cause cancer in laboratory mice
.

Levinas’ Language is a battering ram—
a sign that says the very fact of saying
,
is as inscrutable as the laser pointer’s advice:
Do not look into laser with remaining eye.

Last week I boxed up the solemn row
of philosophy tomes and carted them down
to the used bookstore. The dolly read:
Not to be used to transport humans.

Did lawyers insist that the 13-inch wheel
on the wheelbarrow proclaim it’s
not intended for highway use? Or that the
Curling iron is for external use only?

Abram says that realists render material
to give the reader the illusion of the ordinary
.
What would he make of Shin pads cannot protect
any part of the body they do not cover
?

I load boxes of books onto the counter. Flip
to a yellow-highlighted passage in Aristotle:
Whiteness which lasts for a long time is no whiter
than whiteness which lasts only a day.

A.A.’ers talk about the blinding glare
of the obvious: Objects in the mirror
are actually behind you
, Electric cattle prod
only to be used on animals, Warning: Knives are sharp.

What would I have done without: Remove infant
before folding for storage, Do not use hair dryer
while sleeping, Eating pet rocks may lead to broken
teeth, Do not use deodorant intimately?

Goodbye to all those sentences that sought
to puncture the illusory world-like the warning
on the polyester Halloween outfit for my son:
Batman costume will not enable you to fly.

“Warnings” by David Allen Sullivan from Strong-Armed Angels. ©

Here’s Collins reading the poem: Enjoy!

The Lanyard

by Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’