Introducing a new series…
About six months ago I got an email from a lady named Darlene Gifford who wanted to share some of her poems with me. We started chatting via email, and before I knew it, Darlene had given me an idea for a new blog feature.
The “Poetry Is…” series will be an occasional feature written by a guest poster who may or may not have anything to do with the world of kidlit on a professional basis, but who has some sort of special relationship with and story about what poetry has brought to her life.
I’ve titled the series “Poetry Is…” so that the guest poster will have free reign to fill in the blank with whatever word she wants that has something to do with her personal reflection. It could be healing or funny or nostalgic or terrifying or the best thing since sliced bread. The guest may also share some poems, original or not, that have some meaning for her.
I hope this series will be an opportunity for us to connect with poetry readers and those who write just for the joy of it, and to see “poetry in action” and how it can affect people.
Darlene volunteered to be the first guest poster ever on No Water River, and is here today to share the story of her son Gary, who had cystic fibrosis, and what poetry meant and still means to her. I’m honored to welcome her.
POETRY IS…A TREASURE HUNT
by Darlene Gifford
For me, poetry is a treasure hunt. You can find poems anywhere, even under rocks where you might find some fat worms wiggling about. And if you add a funny thought to that, then you have the beginnings of a poem. There are so many things to explore and discover in your life, but sometimes, like buried treasures, you just have to dig for them. I take the treasures that I’ve found and write poems about them.
FOUR POEMS FROM MY TREASURE HUNTS
I went on a treasure hunt
To see what I could find.
Mud balls, when dusted white,
Are summer snowballs
Packed for a fight.
When I saw a brown bird
Swallowing a fat, wiggling worm,
I wondered if eating live things
Would make my belly squirm?
I saw a long line of black
Ants rushing down a hill.
Even little ants, I guess,
Can have a fire drill!
I saw six sizzling hot dogs
Jump off Daddy’s grill.
While Mother played the harmonica
Our dinner danced down the hill.
After them we ran, and we’re running, running, still.
Mud balls, brown birds, hotdogs, and ants
Were the treasures that I found.
You can find them, too.
There are treasures all around.
Looking at everyday things and finding the extraordinary in them is a challenge I enjoy. By using my imagination and asking “what if” questions, and seeking out the “more” in all things, ideas for poems come.
For instance, on a trolley one day, I noticed two little girls giggling – nothing unusual about that. Girls do giggle. But then I saw that people around the girls were being affected and started giggling, too — even me! I knew those giggles were a little poem treasure. I pulled out my notebook and pen, and before I reached my destination, I had written this poem:
A CUP OF GIGGLES
Put some giggles in a cup.
Giggle! Giggle! Fill it up!
Then pass your giggle cup around.
See how many can be found.
But please be very careful
Not to let one giggle spill.
Giggles are infectious,
They’ll escape. Oh, yes they will!
Spilled giggles on the face,
will wipe away a frown.
And giggles blown into the air
Can infect an entire town!
No one can be unhappy
when giggles are in the air.
So share your giggles with a friend,
And spread them everywhere.
But the first poem I ever wrote was buried in the bottom of my purse. Let me explain. My son Gary was born with a chronic illness, cystic fibrosis. The doctors told me there was no cure, only prolonged life through pills and physical therapy that I would give him at home, three times a day. In 1974, many CF children were dying before they reached their teens, though new research and treatments mean their lifespan is considerably longer now.
When Gary was first diagnosed at age three, I remember sitting by his hospital bed while he slept. My nine-year-old son, John, was staying with relatives so I could be with Gary. Tears were flowing freely down my cheeks and I reached inside my purse for a tissue to dry my eyes. But instead of a tissue, my fingers curled around a pen. I pulled it out.
God, are you trying to send me a message? I wondered. Is writing the outlet you want me to use to handle my grief? So I found some paper, picked up the pen, and started writing my first poem – “Not My Son!” – which, years later, shortly before my son’s death, was published in On Children and Death by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. Gary had seen the poem and knew it was being published, but I never showed him the book because of the title. I wanted to keep his spirits high and hopeful as long as possible.
NOT MY SON!
Cystic fibrosis? What does that mean?
How long will he have it, until six or sixteen?
Tell me Doctor, tell me all that you know.
Is this an illness that he will outgrow?
Slow down a minute. Wait. I don’t understand.
You say that he has to have treatments by hand?
I must pound on his chest three times a day,
To loosen the mucus that will not go away.
You say forever, until death? He’ll have this disease.
Not my little Gary? Tell me different, oh, please!
Couldn’t you be mistaken? Won’t you run some more tests?
You’ve just mixed up his x-rays with another child’s chest.
Mist therapy, postural drainage, enzymes, and pills.
You’re telling me this illness debilitates and kills!
There’s no cure, you say. Are you certain of that?
Oh, God! Not my son. No! Not him. Not that!
Gary loved life. And not once did he complain or say “Why me, Mom?” He enjoyed school until he became too weak to attend. His class would send him get-well cards, and that cheered him up. He idolized his brother, John, who was six years older. He followed John around, and most of the time John let him tag along. John was helpful to me by assisting with Gary’s treatments and entertaining him. Gary also loved his grandma, and they spent many happy hours together playing board games.
I knew Gary’s time was now, so anything he wanted to do, if at all possible, we did it. He was an angel that God loaned me for just a little while. But at times, I was angry at God. And this little poem showed that.
You have so many flowers, God,
Must you have mine, too?
Daisy, my daisy, I watch the petals fall.
When Gary was six, his doctor said he would not make it through another Iowa winter because he was getting pneumonia so much. I told that doctor, “Well, my son will live!” I packed up our belongings, said goodbye to my parents and friends, and with my two boys boarded the Greyhound bus to Oxnard, California. The climate was better for Gary, and he lived another six years. Six precious years! He went to school, joined the Cub Scouts, was very outgoing, and made friends easily.
Six months before Gary died, he heard about the Children’s Hospital Miracle Network Telethon and wanted to participate. They discharged him from the hospital for a few hours so he could be included. He developed a high fever while there, but my little trooper begged to stay! He did a spot with Richard Chamberlain, who was wonderful to him. He signed a stack of autographs, which Gary promptly sold for a dollar each and bought pizzas for all the kids on 5-East, his CF hospital floor.
After Gary died, I found another buried treasure: I discovered I could manage my grief by writing instead of sinking into depression. And so I wrote my grief out:
WINTER IN MY SOUL
When the chill of winter touches,
And I shiver in the blast,
It may be winter in my soul,
But I know it will not last.
There is no grief that can survive,
while love still lives in me.
I know that spring will come again.
Heart, just wait and see.
And here are eight lines of a longer poem:
Sunny yellow dandelions
The color of your hair;
I quickly catch my breath,
As I see you standing there.
What is it about life
That I love so?
Are you still here, son,
did you not really go?
And here is one last treasure I discovered: humor. Humor can lighten and lift the mood of even the most serious of situations. Throughout my son’s short life, I often wrote poems to entertain him – funny poems to make him laugh and forget his illness for a few minutes. One of those poems was “I Found a Flounder,” which Renée has recorded on a video for me. Thank you, Renée.
I FOUND A FLOUNDER
I found a flounder,
In my vegetable stew.
He ate my carrots,
He ate my peas,
And he ate my broccoli, too.
I like my flounder,
my sixty pounder.
I think you’d like him, too.
He ate my taters
He ate my beans
And now he weighs seventy-two.
Now if you hate to eat your veggies,
Look closely in your stew.
There might just be a flounder there,
Eating them for you!
I hope reading this story will lead parents and teachers to talk wih their children about childhood illnesses and children with different needs, and to help them understand how they can make a difference in these children’s lives.
And I hope children will try this for themselves: add a little humor to your everyday challenges and experiences. You may just discover that a smile leads you to more buried treasures than a frown ever will!
You might know my type — the quiet introvert who always has her nose in a book, or the one who is always pulling that notebook out of her pocket to scribble something down. This book lover/writer is from the midwest, Davenport, Iowa, though I now live in San Diego in an active living senior complex. I proudly served two years in the U.S. Army as a W.A.C. Now at age 75, I keep in touch with my family, grandchildren, and friends on Facebook. Life is good in the slow lane.
[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “Poetry Is…A Treasure Hunt”[/heading]
Darlene has also provided these activities for us!
- In her poem “Four Poems from My Treasure Hunts,” Darlene writes about things she found: mud balls, brown birds, hotdogs, and ants. Go on a little “treasure hunt” around the classroom or outside and look for one treasure to write a poem about.
- There are many picture books about illnesses and special needs, and reading these books is an opportunity for children to understand their own illnesses or disabilities, as well as those of other children, and to learn to be sensitive and patient. Be sure to find books that treat the topics and characters in the book sensitively and with respect. Here are some to get started:
- Taking Cystic Fibrosis to School by Cynthia S. Henry (series with books on autism, deafness, seizure disorders, cancer, and many other topics)
- Cadberry’s Letters by Jennifer Racek (cystic fibrosis)
- The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco (being in a “special” class)
- Looking after Louis by Lesley Ely (autism)
- Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo (blindness)
- Let’s Talk About It: Extraordinary Friends by Fred Rogers (physical disabilities)
- For many more titles, see the categories Acceptance/Tolerance, Differences, and Special Needs/Disability on Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday list
- Draw or paint the flounder in “I Found a Flounder” — and don’t forget your veggies!
See more poems in my poetry video library.All poems copyright © 2012 Darlene Gifford. All rights reserved.