Thursday, February 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: Exchange Student

Happy Poetry Friday! The roundup is here today, so Mr. Linky is on duty at the end of this post, ready to collect your links.

Rebecca investigates a double-helix sculpture
 near the genetics department on the Trinity Campus, Dublin, Ireland

In May, my daughter, Rebecca, graduates from college with her degree in physics and a minor in creative writing. It's been exciting as her mom to follow her explorations in both particles and poetry---especially when she emails to say more of her work has been accepted by her school's literary magazine, The Cellar Door.  (I'll try to link when "On the Way to Mars" is published later this spring. It's a favorite of mine.)

Many of her poems are about science, and I've shared them here and here.  The one I'm sharing today isn't. In the fall of her junior year, Rebecca spent a semester as an exchange student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. As an Air Force kid, she'd lived all over the world, and was well-practiced at adapting to new people and places, so much so that I didn't worry much about her heading to Dublin alone to find a room to rent.

I guess I should have, because the room she found, while close to campus, was in a flat with clearly unwelcoming landlords. Ones who left her ugly notes if she left a scrap of lettuce on the kitchen counter. She did get to travel throughout Ireland, sing Mozart's Requiem with a local choir, read James Joyce and eat pub food. But when she shared this poem with me, I was reminded of how isolated a strange place can make you feel, no matter how seasoned a world traveler you are. And how much the small kindnesses exchanged between people---or lack thereof---can cure or wound.

I told her that her words made me sad because not everything about her time in Ireland was rosy, and she said: Oh, Mom, it's a poem. I had to make it more dramatic.

In Northern Ireland

Exchange Student
by Rebecca Holmes

In the last two weeks after I left the rented room
and came to stay with a classmate’s family, it was
the icy inherited house, the high ceiling,
the apples drying over the stove that cured me,
the mince pies. It was the kindness, it was—
it was sleeping the whole night warm like a little sister
on a mattress on the floor, the cold scuttle to the shower,
the steam flooding from a plate of eggs
and potatoes, carols on the radio, dry toast
with butter and jam. It was the antidote
to a frozen grocery store aisle where I stood
between the American-style chocolate chip cookies
and bags of Christmas candy, to walking
back to the room alone past all the bridges
over the Liffey—each early DART ride to school
together was a piece of it, as we ran between the cars
to the front of the train while snow fell over the bay,
slipped the turnstiles at Pearse Street Station,
ran until the flakes melted in the waves.

Homemade mince pie


  1. Thanks for letting me post my links on Thursday night--everything will go up after midnight.

    It's wonderful that your daughter shares her work with you. I'm jealous!

  2. This poem made me remember my days as an exchange student...such a swirl of learning about a new place and longing for home. "sleeping the whole night warm like a little sister..." Beautiful. Thank you to you and your daughter for sharing these words, and thank you for hosting! A.

  3. Your daughter is very accomplished. An entire world is evoked in this.

    My daughter spent a year in Finland. Being there made her much more independent, more confident--and more appreciative of home ; )

  4. Thank you for hosting for us!

    I love your daughter's poem and even though her travel time is past, it still makes my heart ache for her.

  5. There are many such antidotes to the bitterness of being solitary and different in a strange land -- not every moment can be rosy. And yet, how wise is Becca to actually pay attention and recount them? I could not speak of mine so beautifully, for sure.

  6. I love that your daughter writes poetry about science! That is very cool. I went back and read Rebecca's poem about hagfish -- perfect! Looking forward to future poems from her.

  7. What a sweet, sweet poem from your daughter! Lovely to get a sense of her longing for home mixed with gratitude for little warm kindnesses. It brings me comfort today.

    I am celebrating Black History Month with my fav Langston Hughes.

  8. In honor of your daughter's eloquent poem about her time in Ireland, I have the word verification "potat." The missing o is the sound I made when I finished reading her poem. Actually, it was more of an "ah," but I'll exaggerate for the sake of the word verification.

    Thanks for hosting!

  9. Lovely poem that lets me enter in to all the sensory details of comfort...

  10. Your daughter's poem and her experience in Dublin really spoke to me. Her lovely lines captured my own experience of living abroad as a student, quite alone; most importantly it reminds me of my daughter's experiences - you send your adventurous children on their way, and hope the kindness of strangers measures up to their exuberant expectations. Thanks for sharing...and hosting!

  11. Love Rebecca's poem! Took me right back to visiting Dublin while on a school break. I was enamoured with Joyce and the Liffey, but found all was not so rosy in reality.

    Thanks for hosting today!

  12. Wherever we go, the warmth comes not from the heating system but from the human connections:
    the icy inherited house, the high ceiling,/the apples drying over the stove that cured me,/the mince pies.

    It's the we encircling the I.
    Thanks to Rebecca for a trip back to my exchange/au pair days...

  13. The Write Sisters wrap up Valentine month with Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

  14. Rebecca's poem reminded me of my time away from home. It was the little things that got me through.
    Thanks for sharing. I love the photo of the double helix.

  15. Sara, I love Rebecca's poem -- so lovely, and I love this image:
    "ran until the flakes melted in the waves."

    Love that photo, too.

    Thanks for hosting today!

  16. Thanks for hosting.
    My selection is Caroline Kennedy's "A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry For Children" illustrated by Jon J. Muth.

  17. Sara,

    You're daughter is most definitely a talented poet! That is a lovely poem. I am in awe of her writing ability.

    P.S. Thanks for doing the roundup this week.

    I have an original mask poem titled "Spider Speaks" over at Wild Rose Reader.


    Spelling error on my last comment! Shame on me.

    That first sentence should have read: YOUR daughter is definitely a talented poet!

  19. What an exciting time for you and and your daughter. I loved her poem--it brought back memories of the two solid years I slept on my big sister's floor, by choice. Great evocation of mood--so many reasons for you to be proud of her!

    Thanks for hosting, Sara!

  20. What a lovely poem! Makes me want to dry apples over my stove and go to Dublin. I especially love the double use of the word "curing" in the beginning of the poem. A cure like a solution and curing as in drying food. Very evocative.

  21. thanks for hosting, and to rebecca for sharing with you, with us.

    i have to say i had a strangely similar "more dramatic" experience recently when my younger daughter shared a biography project for english and she's embellished some family details. "it's just an assignment."

    anyway, again, thanks.

  22. Sara, thanks for hosting. And for sharing this lovely poem. Your daughter has done a beautiful job.

    We had an exchange student from Kazakhstan live with us when my children were teenagers. It was quite an experience. And our memories and his are not always the same. It was a challenging time. But he remembers it as a landmark year in his life. We recently connected after over ten years and he's planning a visit soon. We look forward to knowing the person he has become. So, whether we remember all of the experience as good or not, it is always life changing. I'm sure it was for your daughter, too. And I love her comment about being dramatic for the poem. Fun.

  23. Congratulations on Rebecca's upcoming graduation. She is very talented! I love that she has interests in both science and poetry, too. Sometimes that left side of the brain really needs a break! Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday. I'm looking forward to reading the posts...

  24. Thanks for hosting! You must be proud of your daughter's eloquence. I can't wait until my kids write poetry!

    I stole from Shakespeare this week -- some favorite lines on opportunity from Julius Caesar. Maybe not technically poetry, but ...

  25. I'm so sorry your daughter had a tough time of it in digs. Reminds me of my landlady in Siena when I was a student. We called her La Strega... And I'm very glad she was scooped up and taken home by friends to show her proper hospitality - as also happened to me. She has written about it beautifully and poignantly. I hope she shared it with her friend too - and thanks for putting it up here.

  26. Thank you for hosting, Sara...and for putting up my link because I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off today!

    My son will be a senior in college next can that be? Where did our Mom-ness end and our friendships slip in?

    And ah...their travels. Flying to another country is as easy to them as taking a bus to another part of town. My hat is off to the next generation and to making this little blue marble smaller.


  27. Thank you for hosting poetry Friday, great way to end the week!

  28. I loved Rebecca's poem, which is a little sad, but I didn't have to read it as a mom so for me it carried a whiff of my own loneliness at that age, and the spirit of an adventurer. Lovely.

  29. Oh, god. Being lonely abroad. It is so hard. Sara... Rebecca is a lovely, lovely poet -- which is no surprise, considering -- and I'm grateful for this...


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