Friday, February 1, 2019

Poetry Friday: Minor Miracle (in the style of Marilyn Nelson)

Writing "in the style of" poems is lovely because you have a guide to follow. It can also make you wonder exactly which parts of the mentor poem to imitate, and which to let slide. The shape of the whole thing....or only the beginning and ending?  Something as small and as potent as the word choices? Or something as large and as nebulous as the theme?

All of those options were there in Marilyn Nelson's poem, "Minor Miracle," which Tanita suggested as our inspiration.  Go ahead, read it now, if you haven't already. 

Here's what this poem illuminated for me:  

how narrative it was, reading like lean unself-conscious prose, until at points, it broke into enjambment or poetic description.  

how matter-of-fact it was, too, letting the reader provide the emotion (brilliantly making us terrified for the characters in the poem, for example)

and, finally, how it began in medias res with the provoking words “which reminds me.”

I tried to use all of these things.  

Minor Miracle

Which reminds me 
of the day my baby boy was tucked
in a borrowed room. I’d left him, nestled in his Pack-n-Play,
next to a twin daybed, while I ate Tennessee turkey,
which is what he would later call bar-b-que, and in the closet
was a jumble of toys: a sturdy shopping cart, and plastic food
to put inside it; harmless Tonka trucks, and above that, a squashed line
of church dresses, hanging around, waiting. Of course, I knew

there were needles and pins in that room, and other sharp sewing
things, and a ironing board that unfolded from the backside
of the closet door. No room in that house was for one purpose
only. But after lunch, I thought we could nap together, me on the daybed,
and baby boy in his unfolded crib. I didn’t fit, though. A bolster,
the daybed’s length, made it serve as a couch. In the dim
light behind drawn blinds, I lifted that lumbering noodle of a pillow
into the air, making space for myself. But it struck
the etched square of glass—that thing, you know—that covers
the lightbulb—that thing on the ceiling! the shade, 
yes, that’s what it’s called. And it shattered. 

A rain of shards, each a needle, each a pin
fell into my baby boy’s nest. In the dark, he didn’t cry out. 
I threw open the closet door, the ironing board banging 
down. Dresses, covered in plastic, swayed. I yanked 
the tail of metal chain that ran to the weak bulb no one
much used except if they were ironing. Light.
A blurred circle of light. A holy-hand-me-down-halo of light.
My boy’s eyes were closed. A dagger of glass, five inches long,
lay beside his ear. No blood. No sound.
He napped on, as if nothing
had happened. I’m sorry, I said.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

                ---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

I'll admit, what I found most difficult about this style was making myself not condense it, or stuff it with extra emotion...but just to let the story be, and have power on its own, as Minor Miracle does. Thank you for the illumination, Ms. Nelson. 

I'm excited for you to see what my poetry sisters have created for this challenge, too. (Kelly had some tech issues this month.) 


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference. 


  1. Oh my soul, this makes me cry every.single.time. What a miracle! And I love the way you told it; the voice, the suspense, the details. Especially the church dresses, bearing witness.

  2. You certainly had me on edge, although I appreciated that you told us at the beginning that he would call it bbq later. Wonderful word choices, like "A holy-hand-me-down-halo of light." And the ending -- what else could it be? As a parent, that's all we have sometimes.
    Where is your daughter's poem? Not seeing a link.

    1. Yes, I did that on purpose, Tabatha...following Marilyn's lead somewhat. Her poem implies immense danger, but survival, at least for her narrator, who is able to tell the story afterwards. Although, in the poem, both riders are at risk, so you don't really know what will happen. My daughter will post with us later this year, I hope.

  3. I love that the halo could also be applied to the baby; something like grace could be a holy hand-me-down all on its own, a grandchild, in the home of people who likely prayed for his little baby self and had their prayers answered, all unknowing.

  4. This is so lovely, and that last stanza, from the shocking rain to the relief to the guilt...such a journey, so quickly.

  5. I love the "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry" at the end. I know that sorry. It's familiar. I'm with Laura...and exquisite journey. It's short but we are with you all the way. I like how you cal this "in the style of." I'm fascinated by copying a style. I love new chances to try. Marilyn Nelson, though. Wowsa. You didn't start with easy...but you did it.

  6. You had me on pins and needles (beginning of stanza two) waiting for the shoe to drop, but no, it was the shade.

    Your apology at the end echoing the one in Nelson's poem...brilliant.

  7. I love that this doesn't go where you'd expect, as on first reading I really thought he'd get into something on his own.
    It's a beautiful poem, full of details and turns of phrases that allow us to see that room so clearly and feel what you must have felt.

  8. Beautifully written, the details, the suspense, pulling us in to worry till the last moment. And with the three "I'm sorry's" at the end, such a release of emotion.

    1. Miss you, Jama! Thanks for coming by.

  9. You had me at "of course, I knew" & my imagination raced. Oh my, it is tense. You did let it happen, Sara, and I worried what was going to 'be'. Wonderfully heart-felt of mothers everywhere.

  10. This poem -- the needles in the nest???
    OH MY GOD, it takes me back to these early, harrowing days of parenthood, their fragility, our flaws....

  11. "there were needles and pins in that room, and other sharp sewing

    This is where I really started to hold my breath.

    So many gorgeous details here. I love the fumbling-for-the-right-word for the shade, the breathlessness of reliving this.



R-E-S-P-E-C-T (or you will be deleted)

You can receive followup comments to this conversation by checking the "notify me" box below the comment window.