I thought I posted this photo once before on this blog, but I couldn’t find it. Also couldn’t find this poem. It was published in The Providence Journal a few years ago in the newspaper’s Sunday poetry column.
I don’t take many photos of myself, so I looked back in the “old photos” folder and pulled out this one, which inspired the poem below. 1967 must have been a very mild winter because this is Iowa in late January, and we were more often snowed in on my birthday.
That dilapidated shed in the background was our playhouse. The tree line behind me was Brady’s place, which was right off the highway. We lived on the gravel road. It was hard to ride your bike on, turned muddy and sloppy in the spring, and had to be plowed out in the winter.
The sweatshirt was maroon. I was in the fifth grade at Holy Name. I’m sure I got markers for Christmas or an art set because I liked to draw. I played the clarinet and piano (both badly). I had my head in a book almost all the time. I was third of six kids. One gone. One still to come.
Found a Photo from Forty Years Ago
A girl stands outside in patchy snow.
Bird-bone arms pinned to sides,
hair like straw, cat-eye glasses,
Today’s her birthday.
There will be angel food cake
speckled with colors,
ten candles sinking in butter cream icing.
an exposed oak tree scratches blackboard sky,
a pig shed serves as a playhouse,
a mile of frozen earth borders a ditch
and two-lane blacktop.
The birthday girl smirks: Ten, one-zero.
She is a wizard in training,
charming endless acres of constancy
into forest, castle, jungle,
offering to the gods, a great journey.
Ten! Ten! Ten!
She thinks her adventure’s just begun.
She skips into the farmhouse,
neglecting a slipper,
trailing a few magic beans.