The Herald Bulletin

April 23, 2013

Primus Mootry: Remembering our personal stories through poetry

By Primus Mootry
For The Herald Bulletin

— April is National Poetry Month. In previous articles, I have urged readers to write their own poems.  Write about anything. Don’t worry about rhyme. Leave that to Shakespeare. Everyone has poems to write and, for example, memories are always a good subject.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of emceeing a program introducing my mother’s newly published book of poetry, “My World.”

The audience consisted mainly of her fellow Red Hatters, a social group for women over 50 (my mother just turned 89!). It was amazing to hear how audience members could so closely relate to the things my mother wrote about.

As to her book, it contains many poems about childhood life in the place of her birth, Crystal River, Fla.; the loss of my eldest sister, Maria; humorous real-life short stories; and even a few recipes for dishes her own mother prepared from time to time. All in all, it is a book of memories; memories as sweet to me as Granny’s old recipe for Mulberry Doobie.

In light of last week’s tragedy in Boston, however, here are two of her poems that are recipes for thought. The first is her tribute to President John F. Kennedy:

He walked with kings and queens

“American royalty,” people said

Yet every time his thoughts, his hand

Reached out to touch the common man

He touched me, too

We shared so little, yet so much.

We shared God’s World:

The sky, the air, the earth

And the waters of the earth

The seasons, and time, and life, and love

We also shared America.

The second poem is about my eldest sister, Maria, and her long, courageous battle with the monstrous cancer that finally won the battle.

During that long night of heartbreak, my mother, my three youngest sisters, and I would take turns staying a week or so with Maria at her home in Springfield, Ill.

In the “My World” poem titled “Railway Passengers Post 9/11,” Mom wrote:

During a recent trip to Springfield, August 2005

We all drifted into a state of innocence

Somewhere between total unconsciousness and

Helpless inertia, only to be yanked periodically

Into quasi-wakefulness by the merciless

Tossing of the rail car. Each passenger with his

Own terror-driven question mark

Stamped on his forehead, sought the eyes of his

Fellow passengers. “Be alert,” was the

Order of the day. Be suspicious of your

Brother/man at all times. Don’t trust anybody.

Everyone is suspect.

No smiles. No laughter. Just a grim

Foreboding of what lay ahead

Ordinary living by ordinary people in our

Twenty-first century world.

These two poems made me wonder. Why is it that certain tragic events remain etched in public memory?

Those of us who are old enough, for example, remember exactly where we were when JFK was assassinated.

Most of us remember exactly where we were when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain;

We remember exactly where we were when those passenger jets slammed into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

Arguably, the same cannot be said of the catastrophic tornadoes that leveled the little town of Joplin, Mo., killed more than 150 people, and cost nearly $3 billion.

The same cannot be said of the unthinkable 2012 slaying of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School; the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre; or the murderous 2011 attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her staffers.

The same cannot be said even of Hurricane Katrina. And where were you when last week’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas took place?

I have no idea what accounts for these apparent quirks, or lapses, in public memory. Perhaps it is a media problem. Maybe it is because some events, though greater in scope and scale, don’t stick in our minds the same way. It could be that Americans are becoming de-sensitized to natural or man-made disasters.

I really don’t know. What I suspect, though, is that we remember in different ways. I also know that many events, local, national, or international, affect us in direct, personal ways. We remember. Writing about and sharing such memories — feelings — is both illuminating and healing.   

After all, to paraphrase a few lines from Mom’s earlier shared poem, we share God’s world — the sky, the air, the earth, and the water. We share the wary joy in the apprehension of the alleged Boston bombing suspects. But, most of all, we share America.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.