The first time I want fishing, I was maybe 6 years old. I had no clue what I was doing, but I'd seen pictures of boys with fishing line and worms, so when I came across some fishing gear in Grandma's house on the coast of Maine, I decided I would give it a try. I dug some worms, went down to the dock, put a worm on a hook, and waited. Pretty soon I pulled up this fat alien-looking green fish with buggy eyes and teeth. It looked like a tiny green whale. I didn't know a fish could be that ugly. I was terrified of it, and I couldn't get the hook out of its mouth. But I was proud to have caught something so I took it to Grandma and asked if she could serve it for lunch.
Grandma didn't let me forget about that ugly green fish for years.
I had five eye operations before I was thirteen years old. I mean to tell you, my eyes were messed up.
I was one of those kids who was always wearing an eye patch on one eye and/or or thick glasses, which I hated and had a habit of “losing.”
Without my glasses, I was cross-eyed in one eye, and that one eye would be orbiting the room while the other looked straight ahead.
With or without glasses, I was teased.
You’re ugly eyes, a boy in my first grade class would say.
Yeah. You’re ugly, too! I’d say back.
But you got crossed eyes.
Well you look like your mama mated with a rhino.
It seemed so unfair to me when I was sent home with a note for my parents for saying mean things. I was just defending myself, I thought. I wanted to ask Mrs. Wallace, my first grade teacher: Why don’t you try going to school with crossed eyes some day. See how you like it.
(Sometimes when I think about stories like this, I think I had early training in rejection, in taking the abuse that I think writing (or trying to get something into print) puts you through.)
I can't really draw Sarah Palin, not that it matters. But every time I look at her, I get distracted by her hair. Is she wearing a hairpiece? Or is that a bump it? Or is it 2 or 3 bump its? I'm not quite sure what a bump it is, but they sell them at the Giant Eagle. There's a lady on the bump it box with one of these cone-head Palin hairdos . . .
First Thomas Sayers Ellis read "Ways to Be Black in a Poem" "Or," and a section from a 35 page poem on Michael Jackson. Now to see if I can read the poems in my head the way he read them, or rather performed them, on stage.
Next Stephen Elliott read from his memoir, The Adderall Diaries. He had many great lines, and I recall 3:
Dominant women never really look dominant.
I wish every action were recorded and we had a little google bar to search out what we did yesterday.
My father is pure Chicago, and I'm New Age San Francisco. If Chicago attacked San Francisco, it would be like the Nazis invading Belgium.
Then Jessica Francis Kane read from The Report, a book of historical fiction about a catastrophe that happened for no apparent reason in 1943 in London. The section she read was more humorous than I imagine the book to be.
Lines that I remember approximately: The Bibles sold out --evidence either that people were looking for help or that faith could overcome the market.
A church without Bibles is like a dearth of hairpins.
Then Nick Flynn read "Haiku Failed," "Air," and "Forgetting Something."
(Nick Flynn, I love your hair! I am going to write an ode to Nick Flynn's hair!)
The last lines he read: First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make / a cage of our bodies—inside we can place / whatever still shines.
Elizabeth Alexander was the last reader. She read poems about everything from women's prisons to historical figures to a dream book to a poem about her mother's cooking in which she wondered what her African American mom did with all that grease she saved and kept by the stove. I've been wondering that same thing about my white mother, now that I think about it. Back in those days, grease was considered a good thing. Sigh. Alexander said she follows the advice of Yusef Komunyakaa: Don't write what you know. Write what you are willing to discover.