Where I’m From – A Poetic Study of Nobu


Cherry blossom

April is National Poetry Month, and perhaps purely by coincidence I was recently assigned a poem.

I’ve learned so much during my Foundation class, the pre-requisite to all other classes in the Writer’s Path series at SMU. I would like to share one of the many excellent exercises we’ve done in class. I liked this one in particular, because I think the end result of this character study captured Nobu so well.

Kay Honeyman, the instructor, and author of The Fire Horse Girl, first asked us to read the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon:

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

She then gave us the choice of re-writing this poem for ourselves or for one of our characters, taking each phrase, each word, and customizing/fitting it to ourselves or our characters.

First, I tried to personalize it to me. But I found it very difficult to spend that much time “analyzing” who I am. So, I chose one of my characters instead. Anyone who has read my book, Creative Characterization or who has taken one of my workshops knows I can spend hours and hours studying, analyzing and trying to figure out who my characters really are.

Interesting that they are actually all a part of me. But I suppose it feels more safe with fiction providing a little distance.

The character I chose was Nobu, and here is what I “customized” for him:

I am from pride and principle,
from fakery and façades.
I am from kimonos and culture
scented with mothballs
I am from the cherry blossom
whose flower is fading.

I am from sake and sin,
California teen relocated to Arkansas internment
I’m from know-it-alls yelling “Get out, Jap”
and pass-it-ons who preach gaman. Patience. Perseverance.
I’m from shikata ga nai, nothing can be done about it
yet my head pounds. “Why the hell not?”

I’m from Buddha and the Bible,
wise words and pages that held
secrets my mother kept,
while Papa shut his eyes so he wouldn’t see.

Under my bed was a diary
spilling all my secrets,
a sift of lost truths
to tease me in my dreams.
I am from all those moments–
snapped before I budded –

I should have been a different tree.

If you’ve read The Red Kimono, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on whether I captured Nobu with this poem. Or, even better, I’d love to see how you “customize” George Ella Lyon’s poem!

This entry was posted in Japanese Culture, The Red Kimono and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Where I’m From – A Poetic Study of Nobu

  1. Anonymous says:

    I feel you did, Jan. The turmoil within… and your passage about Buddha and the Bible helps underscore his character. A difficult assignment which you mastered!

  2. Mustang.Koji says:

    I feel you captured his character nicely, Jan. The turmoil within and stress from camp life… I especially felt your passage about Buddha and the Bible underscored the conflicts plaguing him. You get an “A”!

    ps Fir me, at least, this WP app doesn’t like me. If there’s a duplicate comment from earlier my apologies but I can’t see it.

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