Where I’m From

Yesterday, when I read Ren’s poem, it took me 30 minutes before I realized that I too have written a poem inspired by George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m from.”

I wrote the poem as an exercise during an InterVarsity Asian-American Ministries banquet about 5 years ago, but never finished it because we ran out of time.  My sister was sitting next to me and wrote her own–unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of hers.  But here’s my unfinished draft:

Where I’m From
by Kathy Tuan-MacLean

I am from toasted pound cake with margarine for breakfast
From Sarah Lee and Blue Bonnett
I am from the jumbled chaos
Mama’s papers, our toys, the books stacked overflowing on coffee tables and piano bench
I am from the papaya tree growing next to our house
The luscious orange fruit
Releasing putrid smells when split open for Baba’s breakfast every morning
I’m from the Changing of the Underwear at midnight on New Year’s, the Ke Tou in the morning and my parents beaming faces as they hand over the red envelopes
From Loretta and San Fu
I’m from scholars who move history
Who lift their forefingers when declaiming
From “You need to do 110%” and
“Money should never separate family”
I’m from apostate Baba
And Sunday school teacher Mama
I’m from Lafayette, Indiana and China
Hong Shao Beef with White Rice
and Pizza Hut pan pizzas with pepperoni, mushrooms and olives
From a mother who eats sweet potatoes because she had no money to buy them as a child
And a father who grew up in embassies
Our photographs are stacked in the living room bookshelf in Manoa Valley, negatives in the safe deposit box, Baba’s papers at the University of Hawaii Library
I am from Honolulu, Beijing, Chicago, Manhattan, Somerville and Winchester
I find it interesting to see that what I wrote about was about my family of origin, my roots, with nothing about my present other than a nod to the places I lived after graduating from high school.
I saved the poem, as well as the poem guide because I loved the exercise so much.  In case you’re ever interested in doing it with a group or even your family (frankly can’t imagine my girls going for forced poem writing, even during our family retreat–but hey, maybe we’ll try!)  here it is:
Where I’m From Poem
  1. I am from (specific ordinary item)
From (product name) and (anything)
  1. I am from the (home description)
(adjective, adjective, sensory details)
  1. I am from the (plant, flower, natural item)
The (plant, flower, natural item)
(description of natural item)
  1. I’m from (family tradition) and (family trait)
From (name of family member) and (another name of family member)
  1. I’m from the (description of family tendency)
And (another family tendency)
  1. From (something you were told as a child) and
(something else you were told as a child)
  1. I’m from (representation of religion or lack of it)
(further description)
  1. I’m from (place of birth and family ancestry)
(two food items representing your family)
  1. From (family about a specific person and a detail)
The (another detail of another family member)
  1. (Location of family pictures, mementos, archives)
  2. I am from (several more lines indicating what makes you unique)
Where are you from?  I’d love to know. . . 

About Kathy Tuan-MacLean
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09224370583495960382 Ling

    i dont do forced poem writing unless its for school.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03514055907519442480 owj2941

    I love this! I think I will use it at a retreat for Blackfeet women on the reservation in Montana. My sister Jan sent it to me- thanks. Your poem is excellent!
    Julie Owens

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14631784702731513623 athanasius

    Great exercise! I will let you know if I try it on my blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14631784702731513623 athanasius

    I posted my own and tagged you on FB. It seemed big at first with so many elements, but I really like how it came out. Thanks again!


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