Poetry Was Everywhere

nursery_rhyme_record

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke called childhood as “that precious, kingly possession, that treasure house of memories.” The God of Knickknacks draws on my childhood. 

My childhood gave me the gift of being able to write poetry, but not because I came from a family who read poems. My parents never looked at books and barely glanced at The Daily News or The Forward before my mother spread the pages over the freshly washed kitchen floor. But when I, their third daughter, was born, I was given what every writer needs to create: solitude, lots of it. I was free to leap and twirl, curls bouncing, from Simple Simon to Mistress Mary and Little Miss Muffet on the linoleum floor of my bedroom that was printed with nursery rhymes. I could recite each one as I landed on it, thanks to my 78-rpm vinyls that I played on my record player. Before I was two, I could place the arm on the spinning record as deftly as a brain surgeon using a scalpel. My mother, who would have loved being on stage, instead of in her kitchen, played music all day on the radio. “Oh, I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts,” I’d sing along:

“There they are a-standing in a row. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head. Give ‘em a twist, a flick of the wrist, that’s what the showman said.”

The lyrics tasted better than Mars Bars or Snickers. The rhythms synched with my heartbeat like jump rope ditties.

But, the world of the child is fragile. Children depend on adults to steer their ships that are, upon reflection, as sinkable as leaky canoes. So, I’m drawn to the light and dark of life, the underbelly of danger, the question from the Unetanah Tokef prayer that is chanted on the high holiday of Rosh Hashanah, but lurks in my head throughout the year: “Who shall live and who shall die?” Joy stems from this ritual inquiry.

Nevertheless, I had my parents as buoys. My sassy mother made me laugh with her natural talent for metaphor. She nicknamed the clerk, in the hardware store, who had neglected and overcrowded teeth, “Eighty Green Teeth.” She dubbed little Opal Pickens, who was forever pulling at his penis, “O-pee Picker.” My Russian father could make memorable images too, especially about weather. A humid day was a “schvitz bad,” and during a storm he once said: “The wind moans like an old man in pain.”

My parents never thought of taking me to the library and I never thought of asking them. I didn’t even know where it was. But, when I was five, a neighbor who was moving away because the neighborhood had gone ‘downhill,’ gave us her grown son’s red-bound set of Childcraft Encyclopedia. After opening Volume One and recognizing in it the illustrated nursery rhymes that were my linoleum floor – with my index finger marking each word – I recited the nursery rhymes each day until I was hoarse. That was how I learned to read.

There’s always talk of ‘the mind’s eye,’ but sometimes I feel that my eyes are my mind. I take in what I see like a photograph. I jot the scene on the back of a shopping list or a napkin. If I keep at it, I can shape the poem: what it’s really about and why my eyes chose it in the first place. That’s how I approached writing Brooklyn Bridge Park.

No matter how much I study poetry now – the rhetoric of John Ashbery, the imagism of William Carlos Williams, or Whitman’s long, lyric lines – I know that my real impulse toward poetry comes from the open-eyed, open-eared, and untutored time when poetry just was a rhyme on my bedroom floor. 

 


Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Kaylee’s  Ghost was finalist in the Indie 2013 Awards. Shapiro’s essays have appeared in NYT (Lives), Newsweek, and more. Her poems have appeared in Iowa Review, Moment, Atlanta Review. She’s a phone psychic who teaches writing at UCLA Extension. Learn more about her by visiting this website: http://rochellejewelshapiro.com.


 

 

 

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

 

Joy, the blueness of the East River,
hearing “Imagine” piped
from the concessions, uttering
the beer brands—Brooklyn Lager,
Captain Lawrence, Kelso Pilsner,
the sparrow on the railing,
twitching for a crumb, the view
of the Brooklyn Bridge,
seeing the angled glass fins
of the new Twin Towers.
 
Sorrow, the young couple texting
all through lunch without a glance
at each other, the wind that rips
off the East River, blowing down
the giant green umbrellas
from the concession’s round tables,
their points nearly gouging eyes,  
the sunbathers lying on the grass
when I already have my next skin cancer
surgery slated, remembering
the reason the World Trade Center
needed to be rebuilt. 

 

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Kaylee’s Ghost was finalist in the Indie 2013 Awards. Shapiro’s essays have appeared in NYT (Lives), Newsweek, and more. Her poems have appeared in Iowa Review, Moment, Atlanta Review. She’s a phone psychic who teaches writing at UCLA Extension. rochellejewelshapiro.com 

Joy

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

 

In the den, Eden on the trampoline,
curls bouncing, skirt flying over
her little belly. Rebecca, at the kitchen table,
doing her eight-year-old version
of Olde English voices for her plastic knights
and ladies that she moves about
a cardboard stage.
 
It’s been a day since the tornado,
the warning screech through the cell phone
their mother had left on the kitchen island
as she drove unknowingly toward the storm,
her only worry, the sippy cup that spilled
in the backseat. Yes, the sky
was a weird yellowish gray and birds
were flapping madcap, but tornados
only happen in the Midwest, don’t they?
 
How does the god of wind select
which of us to spin from the earth,
into the dark, roaring rings
of the hell-bound funnel?    
 
The impatiens are upright today.
The plastic lady saves her knight. 
Eden jumps on the trampoline. 

 

 

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Kaylee’s Ghost was finalist in the Indie 2013 Awards. Shapiro’s essays have appeared in NYT (Lives), Newsweek, and more. Her poems have appeared in Iowa Review, Moment, Atlanta Review. She’s a phone psychic who teaches writing at UCLA Extension. rochellejewelshapiro.com