Friday, March 02, 2018

Poetry Friday: Finishing my QWP

I had a birthday this week, and it was a biggie.  Now I'm a quinquagenarian.  I announced back in July that I was embarking on a writing project to prepare for my birthday.  My goal was to write fifty first drafts before I turned fifty.  I achieved it, plus a little bit more, and I've shared some of my writing here along the way, and some more of it with my writing group, and some with my husband and my children and a few friends.  Some of it hasn't been read by anyone but me.

To celebrate my birthday, I'm going to share two of my QWP poems today.  The first one was inspired by a book my daughter brought home, in which the poet had written a "Self-Portrait as Motel Clerk."  It was about a job he had had in graduate school, and it made me think of a job I had between college and grad school.  When I look back at myself at that age (just a little older than my daughter is now), I feel fondness for that young person with so much ahead of her.  This poem is a good illustration of my QWP because it uses some of the raw material I've gathered in my 50 years on this earth.

The second poem is based on a prompt that Liz, last week's roundup host, shared.  It's called a "Why I'm Here" poem, similar to George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" poem.  (Here's my WIF poem, from back in 2006.)  I loved Liz's "Why I'm Here" poem and wanted to write one too.  I've worked at my school since I was 25 years old (with a few breaks here and there to move away and then back, and to stay home with my children), and now I am the éminence grise of the middle school, getting to that point where I'm older than most of my students' parents.  My own children don't need me as much as they used to.  I'm not cool any more (not that I ever was, very).  Why am I here?  I thought about it for a while (and it made the James Taylor song "That's Why I'm Here" go through my mind for a few days) and came up with some answers.  On my birthday, a bunch of my friends made a list of 50 things they like about me - best gift ever! - and I was pleased to see that several of the things about me that I think are reasons I'm here were on their list.

Self-Portrait as Waitress

It’s the summer before my wedding
and starting grad school.
I’m twenty-one,
dressed in a shiny nylon waitress uniform
and trying to look confident.

I’m waiting tables in Nashville, Tennessee,
just like half the people who moved here
to make it big in country music.

The kitchen staff and the other waitresses
yell cheerfully and profanely at each other and at me,
expanding my vocabulary and my world.

A busboy tells me proudly there are ten steps to bussing a table
and I realize I never thought about bussing a table
let alone about doing it well.

I’ve never failed a class before
but I struggle to master my eight steps of waitressing.

I sniffle as I eat my tasteless employee-priced dinner
at a table smelling of grease and sweat and vanilla ice cream.

A fellow waitress tells me this is her second job;
she works at another place during the day
and then here three to eleven,
and she’s saving up to leave her husband.

My feet hurt in their sensible shoes.

In my dreams I spill coffee, drop plates, forget orders
then get up and put on my dark green uniform
and try again to get it right.

I refill ketchup bottles and roll silverware after my shift.

One day a secret shopper writes me a glowing review,
and it’s hung up on the bulletin board in the break room,
like a report card on a refrigerator.

I learn what “sweet milk” is,
how to get sworn at without flinching,
and to tip well.

Ruth, from

Why I’m Here

I’m here to make and pour the tea
and to add an extra spoonful of sugar
if you want it.  I’m here
to ask the questions
and listen to the answers,
to overthink and empathize.
I’m here to read as many of the books
as I possibly can.  I’m here
to fix punctuation
and recommend a good novel,
to lower the noise level in the hallways,
to witness the eyerolls
and try not to take them personally.
I’m here to learn new slang
every year, in several languages,
to say the wrong thing and then say I’m sorry,
to say the right thing every once in a while.
I’m here to tell new teachers
that there is nothing wrong with them,
and that the first year is just the worst.
I used to be here to clean up vomit,
and now I’m here to answer my children’s texts
and to savor my husband's cooking
and to hold babies whenever I get the chance.
I’m here to say goodbye
again and again
and somehow still find the energy to say hello.
I’m here to write it all down
and take pictures of all of it
and remember,
even if everyone else forgets:
love, and earthquakes,
and what the hibiscus looks like today.

Ruth, from

Here's what the hibiscus looks like today, in case you're wondering:

I've been keeping track of my QWP on the whiteboard in my classroom, changing the number as it went up.  Most of my students didn't pay any attention, but there were one or two in each class who would comment and ask questions.  The day after my birthday, I erased the total, and decided to start again from scratch.  How much can I write before my next birthday?  We'll see!

And here's today's roundup.


Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

Fifty twirling spins of happiness for the indomitable you, to set a big goal, share it with your borrowed kids and then reach it. I love these two poems: the grit, the joy, the you that shines through.

Linda Mitchell said...

Oh, my goodness. What a rich visit with you today. First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! It's not that bad, is it? Once you get past the day and all the dread you had for it is now in the past. I hope it's like that for you.

Your two poems are outstanding. I too worked in a restaurant for my first job and the details brought back memories I hadn't thought of in years. The feel of the uniform....sweating, the smell of stale ice cream, the work that I had to learn even though I was a good student.

I had an experience this week that makes me think of writing that Why I'm Here's a significant question to answer...and I've been pushing back against it. I think I need to face it and just write the thing. I love the line....hold babies when I can....I miss the babies but not the work of them. I love a chance to hold a baby now and hand baby back to mom or dad when it's time.

Irene Latham said...

Ruth! Happy happy birthday a few days late, my birthday-mate! I love that you met your goal... and that now you're starting again. I love both these poems. LOVE them. I think you should create a collection called LOVE AND EARTHQUAKES. It never occurred to me either that there were steps to bussing a table... and isn't this exactly what a poem is for? To remind us/change us/make us MORE? Thank you, my friend. xo

Linda B said...

As I've told you other times, I always find joy and learning when I read your posts, Ruth. The poems are delightful peeks into who you are, and what you've been, all put together to say "Ruth". I'm copying these for inspiration! Happy Birthday 'after'!

Mary Lee said...

What an inspiration you are! I'm in love with both poems, but especially these lines:
"I’m here to say goodbye
again and again
and somehow still find the energy to say hello."
Aging is bittersweet, and you captured it here!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Just one of those poems would be enough to sit with and savor for a good long time, Ruth. Two? I feel blessed indeed! Happy birthday, and I agree with Irene. I think a collection is in order. :) Your words and your hibiscus are beautiful.

Rebecca Herzog said...

Both of these poems are wonderful and full of life. Happy Birthday!

Sarah Grace Tuttle said...

First off, thank you for introducing me to a new and wonderful word. "Quinquagenarian"-- what a great one! Second, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Third, thank you so much for sharing these poems. They are both beautiful.

Kay said...

Congratulations on meeting your challenge for your 50th, and happy birthday! I'm looking forward to that one pretty quickly. I love both your poems you shared here--they reveal a beautiful soul.

Books4Learning said...

What a great goal to write 50 before you are 50. Congrats on completing it. I hope you feel proud and develop a lot of great poems out of those first drafts. Happy belated birthday!

Janice Scully said...

I enjoyed your poem about waitressing, something I did in high school and college. You've inspired me to write more about that because it was a huge part of my life and something I think of often years later. Happy Birthday!

GatheringBooks said...

Dear Ruth,
That was heartfelt and so utterly beautiful. Loved these lines:
"and now I’m here to answer my children’s texts
and to savor my husband's cooking
and to hold babies whenever I get the chance.
I’m here to say goodbye
again and again
and somehow still find the energy to say hello.
I’m here to write it all down"

I always savor my husband's cooking (because I don't cook at all, it is my only source of nourishment, so am so fortunate that he is sooo good at it.
I am turning 42 in a few days, and your post has made me wonder, truly. I have a list of books I posted when I turned 40 - of the 40 books I hope to read before I turn 50. I hope I get to them soonest, time seems to be running out. :)

Janet said...

I've been catching up, enjoying all these posts. This is just the best. Thank you!

Carol Varsalona said...

I missed this post so I am here to applaud your poems. I never knew there were 8 steps to waitressing. Maybe that news would have helped me when I worked at Friendly's in high school. Have a great new year, Ruth.

Michelle Kogan said...

I somehow missed your post too. Glad I could catch up on it here. Love the waitress poem, as I walked in those shoes also and they were always sore. You've captured a mountain of yourself in your "Why I'm Here" such a strong, caring, and nonchalant inner voice. And I love the hibiscus!