Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Coming to Ithaca

Yesterday, January 17, I had the great honor of being named the 2017 Tompkins County Poet Laureate, by the T. C. Board of Representatives. I read this poem at their meeting, and I want to share it here, but I must add this: as with much of my prose, this poem is true but not 100%. I do embellish a bit. I call this kind of writing Family Fiction. I say this now because I would never want to cause any pain to my parents!!!!!!!!!!! I love them so very very much. They have always been incredibly good to me. But I use them as "characters" and I put words in their mouths. So if you know my beloved Eve and Mort, forgive me my exaggerations. It probably only took us 8 hours to get to Ithaca, but 9 is a better number in a poem!

the first drive from the bronx to ithaca took 9 hours

dad was a nervous driver, stopped at every gas station
and scenic overlook

he needed to stretch   smoke   pee   worry

what he worried about was me
his oldest daughter leaving home

he never heard of the place
insisted on calling it "that ishtaka"

mile after mile   hour after hour   he fretted and fumed

every time he saw a peace sign on a bumper sticker
he said "damn it"

i was crammed into the back seat of the green dodge dart
surounded by suitcases   typewriter   stereo  my guitar

i couldn't move   i couldn't breathe

my father's fear and anger took up so much space

my mother, sitting beside him
kept turning around to look at me
her eyes asking  "honey, are you alright?"

my eyes asking "will we ever get there?"

at last we got there   we found quarry dorm
my father couldn't believe it

"where is the college? 
who do i have to see to get you
into a real dorm?"

i loved it at first sight   an outpost refuge 
far from the campus

i said "this is perfect for me, daddy"
mom said "this is perfect for her, morty"

my room was large   there was a window
and outside the window   there was a tree

a tree!
it felt like i was in paradise

mom went down the hall to the bathroom
when she returned she was beaming
"there are 6 stalls," she said, "you will never have to wait"

my parents sat on my bed watching me unpack
we were waiting for my roommate to arrive
she was coming from winnetka, illinois

my father didn't like the sound of that
"oh morty," mom sighed "the girl can't help it,
she didn't ask to be born in the midwest, you know"

inside my head a silent chant
leave leave leave leave please will you just leave

finally   they did   they left

and i stayed

that was september, 1968

i am still here