Community Collection 2: ANCESTRAL ROOTS with Nikki Grimes

Welcome to Poetry Month 2018 at No Water River!
Please take a moment to peruse the how-to below, and then dive in! Happy writing — and thank you for helping to build our collection(s)!


Today’s Guest






Li Cheng, a character from Between the Lines, feels somewhat disconnected from her Chinese roots. Yet, in her home, there are cultural reminders, both big and small, of her Chinese ancestry. One mentioned here is the playing of mah-jongg tiles.
Except for Native Americans, everyone in the U.S.A. comes from somewhere else. Do you feel disconnected from your ancestral roots, or was there something from that culture—like a game or a recipe, for instance—that was handed down as a tradition in your home that kept you connected? Write a poem about it.



1. Paste it into the comment section below. I will gather the poems and add them to this post. OR
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Where are my roots?
Would a family move to another country?
Would they not hold some special memories?
Would they not remember some special song?
Would they not desire some special food?
Of course, they will!
We carry our past
We carry our music
We carry our traditions
They deserve to move forward
They expect more
They want to follow their dreams
They are people
Why do we hold them back?
Where is compassion…?
Maritza M. Mejia@2018


The nonnas and the zias
with their fleshy arms
want you to mangia.
They say so, repeating,
“Mangia! Mangia!”
It’s no cliché.
It’s really their way
of showing affection.
So, eat.
You will please them
and they will lay down
their rosary beads
for uno momento,
no longer needing
to pray for your soul
your thin soul
your skinny soul
to enter the heaven that is
your dinner plate—
and chock-full-to-brimming
with sauces
and pastas
the fruits of their labor
on a platter.
© 2018 Heather Ferranti-Kinser


A garble of sounds
Polish, Hebrew, English…
Strange tongue,
Quiet girl.
Don’t understand.
Ham sandwich on rye – or matzo brei?
Beet borscht and rye bread,
Potato latkes and apple pancakes,
Falafel and hummus,
Come and dine.
Catholic, Jew, agnostic…
A recluse, shunned
Solitary life,
Book friends.
Friends embrace me.
Networks of beautiful souls.
God’s grace sets free

Now, I am me.
©Yvona Fast



A mystery, a puzzle:
love of pasta,
ebony eyes,
patrician nose,
natural as breath,
passed to my children
from parents unknown
to me.
Sicily shouts
a heritage
can’t erase.
(C) Sherry Howard

Straight Outta the Alley

I’m one sixteenth Tabby,
I’m one eighth Siamese,
I’m one quarter Calico,
One tenth Burmese.
They say I’m part Persian,
Part Birman, part Tom,
There’s probably some other
Places I’m from.
But now, I live
In your living room;
I’m happy, I’m healthy,
I’m well-fed and groomed.
Still, though a sofa
And pillow are nice,
When I sleep,
I dream
About chasing mice.
c. PJ Henry 2018


I don’t want to lose face.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I don’t want it to rain cats and dogs.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
It’s darkest before the dawn.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I don’t want to eat crow.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I don’t want to go on a wild goose chase.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I often go to the rest room.
I don’t want to rest, I’ve just heard it said.
Some people go down to the wire.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I want to be Scott free.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I don’t want to go to La-La land.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I should keep a stiff upper lip.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I should not kowtow.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.
I don’t want to be lily livered.
I don’t know why, I’ve heard it said.

How can I explain I am all of these. I DON’T KNOW WHY.

Joy Moore

I Am All of You

I’m Mexican and Asian
Caucasian and brown
I’m all the people
who love under
my powder blue skies.
I’m singers and poets
builders and planters
I’m all the people
who work on
my piece of earth.
I’m dog and cat
bird and shark
I’m all the animals
who roam from my
sea to shining sea.
I’m love and hope
support and aid
I’m humanity and compassion
charity and goodness
I’m the faithful kindness
of all of these
Who am I?
The U.S.A.
© 2018 Robyn Campbell


I am from a suburb of Pittsburgh
With Parquay margarine and Miracle Whip
Plates to be emptied at dinner
I’m from the yards around my house, escaping the tension
The apple tree, milkweed and woolly bear,
From tadpoles, creeks and mud pies
I’m from Turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving
Pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s
An olive skinned girl declaring, “I’m German.”
But knowing she was different
I’m from, “You can be anything you want to be,” and
“Why would you want to do that?”
Some stings still smart.
I’m from secrets and lies
Wounds scabbed over except
When I think too much
And pick them open
I’m from seeking my own path
Joining up with another
Roots of our own
Children who know both mother and father
Mostly I’m good with the me from that detour
But some days I visit the roads before that
I’m from photographs in a cardboard box
Stories from my mother; all but the one I need

Who was he? Why was he?
Lisa Connors @2018



What’s in me?
I see it in the curl of my lips,  frizz of my hair,
I feel it in the dark of my eyes, golden brown skin
I taste it in the salt of my sweat, the tea in my mouth
I smell it in the flowers on my table, the leather in my purse
What’s in me?
I touch it with my hands on the page, my words on the paper
I hear it in the trill of my thoughts, the songs of my soul
What’s in me?
My family tree
© Kirstine Call 2018


Roots stretch deep
into the soil
jig-jag her and there,
remember this is America
where crossing an ocean
once was welcomed!
My roots hopped a boat
from the Ukraine–
Grandpa made it through
Lady Liberty Island, but
his bro hightailed to Argentina,
due to dirt in his eye.
But wait, the root persecution
goes back even further.
Great-great-great Grandpa
vamoosed out of Romania,
you couldn’t be a Jewish farmer
and own your own land.
Yes, my own roots have inter-married
in American soil–and seek
Lady Liberties “light, beside”
her “golden door” to open a passage
for all tired, poor and “huddled masses
yearning to breath free.”
© 2018 Michelle Kogan


My words
like rain
into a puddle
into an ocean
into a boundless
I am
a quiet
To them
I am just dirt
But in God’s palm
he mixed me
mud and rain
and sung psalms of
                                  & Hope
They try to cut
me at the knee
but I kneel
and pray
and I am
                    & Free
Like the potter’s wheel
I keep turning
I rise up
into myself
I am
a wide-mouth vessel
brimming full
with God’s
I am
and ready
to pour
I am here
I’m Dave

I am

© 2018 Ronda Taylor



In the mirror,
I see the familiar lines
of her face
upon mine.
I once hated
my high cheekbones.
Yet these same cheeks
now convey her journey
of hunger, of bombs and of loss.
And of love.
Family and friends,
songs and stories,
become part of daily life.
Traditions mixed from different
circumstances, cultures and countries.
and later carried in the lines of her face.
They now carry me
in mine.
In the mirror,
I embrace every line.
Each a sentence of a sweeping novel.
A work in progress.
© Marianne Kuzujanakis 2018

Immigrant’s Song

I come from coal dust
And hopes taken down, down,
Into the mine shaft deep underground.
Before the shaft fills and
dreams drown.
Homestead rich black fields.
Truck-farm tall corn, fat round tomatoes,
Finest sweet peppers, red, yellow, green.
Sell a bushel, save.
Buy all the acres you plow.
Wed. Birth. Bury.
Corn grows from one yellow seed

Into an immigrant’s dream.
(c) 2018 Nancy Bo Flood

Roots I Haven’t Passed On
From farm to city,
I celebrate the memory
of sheep’s curled wool,
their bleats as I ride with Grandpa
to round them up for
the farm kind of “wool gathering”.
Off to market for the weavers
back to us with skeins of rainbows,
knitted socks and sweaters.
Now, while city browsing the yarn shop,
I see the sheep,
hear the bleats,
again trot along with Grandpa.
Linda Baie © All Rights Reserved


When thrown into infertile soil,
the seed is oft’ rejected.
While elsewhere, seedlings find their roots,
this seed is disconnected.
It’s not absorbing nutrients
from sources high and low;
it’s simply searching for a place

where it can to start to grow.
Colleen Murphy
© 2018



Visiting the homeland of ancestors,
unconsciously selecting Sunday dinner
that my mom made almost every week
I felt a tug,
my heart?
my memories?
a secret longing for yesterdays?
The taxi driver’s voice,
the shock of the thick white hair,
the thin creased face,
remind me
my ancestors are still here.
By Kathleen Mazurowski


Mexican treat,
wherever I would be,
you remind me of me!
From the highlands
of Central Mexico,
to the essence of my soul,
it’s the avocado flavour,
my identity after all!
Self exiled from my own roots,
I dug back to ancestral clues;
No land, no rain, no voice,
but the unforgettable taste,
of one delicious choice!
Millennial fruit,
domestic tree,
your taste binds me fast.
True identity, at last!
Mexican treat,
wherever I would be,
you remind me of me!
©2018 Claudia Noriega


My fingers never swelled from the pricks of cotton bolls
nor itched from the poison of velvet beans like hers.
Soon as she was able, she got shut of the farm,
made her way to a boarding house in Atlanta,
lost her accent and swore she’d never go back
for more than a weekend visit. When my daddy,
the son of a tenant farmer with a love for the land,
wanted to buy the old home place, she’d have none of it.
There are no ancestral stories more than a generation back.
Only memories of bathing on the back porch, water
drunk from a carved gourd, fish fries, and hoecake
drug through a plate of thick sorghum syrup.
I own their rhythm of work and rest.
The sixty-gallon iron pot, once used for scalding pigs,
brims with purple and yellow pansies.
The handmade dough bowl holds fresh fruit.
© 2018 Doraine Bennett

To Life

We have no “in my country…”
Our country began in America
When the great-greats left
it was not the land that betrayed them
that disappeared forever when it
faded in the distance
Wiped out the way they wanted to wipe
Us out with their Pogroms
The promise of America
– a new beginning –
my son, my daughter.
©2018 k.marcus
In the Land of Palestine
The small wine glass on my grandparents’ shelf
Held for me the mystery of a place far away
Though they had come from Russia, people
Had gone in droves to the land of Palestine
And as that wine glass would sit with us
At Passover Seder, it shimmered
With the prayers that were said from the Haggadah,
That my grandparents were clear to teach
Meant peace for all peoples of all colors and walks of life.
I watched that jet take off from O’Hare airport
When they decided to go visit the Holy Land
And I knew I would follow some day
The arid hills outside Jerusalem felt like home
Even though I was thousands of miles
From the land where I was raised.
The bursts of sunset gusts blew through the dryness,
Carrying the known sweetness of Jerusalem air,
The autumn crocuses calling like sirens at sea..
I was where I belonged, if only for some days.
I could see the aquiline noses and unruly dark hair
And move among people without being noticed.
And my heart throbbed quietly for the hope that
Peoples, whether Hebrew or Palestinian or Chaldean
Could all float together on the breezes
And link hands and all call this home, under
The olive trees, near the Red Sea (the Reed Sea )
And know that God’s earth belongs to everyone.
by Shelley Smithson











©2018 Heidi Mordhorst

Where I Am From

I am from screened front porches,
from sweet Tetley tea,
From biscuits that flake,
From lightnin’ bugs blinking on wood-sweet honeysuckle nights.
     I am from the yellow-clad
jaunty cottage, on the corner of Collier Place and Spring Valley.
It tasted of ripe peaches and scuppernongs.
I am from blossoming cotton-candy pink and weathered white dogwoods,
A three-trunked magnolia whose strong perfume held up my plywood treehouse, a not-so-secret spying place, ideal to gaze upon
Little sisters and other pesky
skinned-kneed neighborhood kids who rode their bikes each afternoon after school
In looping circles around our street’s jungle-tendency tadpoled-creeked forest patch,
besides mustard-swaying forsythia, purple climbing clematis, and wandering lonely as a cloud daffodils,
full of graced showiness.
I’m one part prim and oh-so-proper pedigree,
Four parts wild and rambling clan, oh me!
A good bit of rowdily red-headed Scotsman
A pinch of at least one fine Englishman:


Of clans in kilts

Of ladies in silk

Of the brogue of tongues

Of silent young ‘uns

Of minding your Ps

And especially your Qs

Of genealogies traced

(With some lies and some lace.)

I can set a proper table for a seven-course meal.
I can dance a quick jig to an old Scottish reel
I am somehow connected to folks never known
But the truth of the matter is
what I most own
Are my southern roots baked in deep red Georgia clay
Marinated in a bit of “Howdy, y’all”
With a dash of old southern “Honey, hey!”
I can still bake my Granny’s butter-rich pound cake,
And know how to throw a down home clambake.
I’m of
Slower than molasses
Goodness gracious sakes alive
I’m of
Heavens to Betsy
Hold your horses, honey child.
I’m of
Church on Sunday
Dressed in Sunday best,
Followed by chicken deep fried
And an afternoon rest.
I’m of homegrown tomatoes
And homemade peach ice cream.
I’m of all these things
Which I often dream
For now I live where I love second best
Out here in the high dry desert
Of Colorado’s wild west.
© Lane M. Arnold, 2018


New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes has written many award-winning books for children and young adults including the Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade; the Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin’s NotebookTalkin’ About BessieDark SonsThe Road to Paris, and Words with Wings; Horn Book Fanfare for Talkin’ About Bessie; ALA Notable books What is Goodbye? and Words with Wings; the popular Dyamonde Daniel chapter book series, and numerous picture books and novels including The New York Times bestseller Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope and, most recently, Garvey’s Choice and One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance.

An accomplished and widely anthologized poet of both children’s and adult verse, Grimes has conducted poetry readings and lectures at international schools in Russia, China, Sweden and Tanzania, while short-term mission projects have taken her to such trouble spots as Haiti.

Nikki is the recipient of the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Born and raised in New York City, Ms. Grimes now lives in Corona, California.

Learn more about Nikki and her books at



(blurbs from the author’s website)

This thought-provoking companion to Bronx Masquerade shows the capacity poetry has to express ideas and feelings, and connect us with ourselves and others.

Darrian dreams of writing for the New York Times. To hone his skills and learn more about the power of words, he enrolls in Mr. Ward’s class, known for its open-mic poetry readings and boys vs. girls poetry slam. Everyone in class has something important to say, and in sharing their poetry, they learn that they all face challenges and have a story to tell—whether it’s about health problems, aging out of foster care, being bullied for religious beliefs, or having to take on too much responsibility because of an addicted parent. As Darrian and his classmates get to know one another through poetry, they bond over the shared experiences and truth that emerge from their writing, despite their private struggles and outward differences.


In this collection of poetry, Nikki Grimes looks afresh at the poets of the Harlem Renaissance—including voices like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more writers of importance and resonance from this era—by combining their work with her own original poetry. Using “The Golden Shovel” poetic method, Grimes has written a collection of poetry that is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking.

A foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, poet biographies, and index makes this not only a book to cherish, but a wonderful resource and reference as well.

Awards and recognition include: Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for Middle Readers, 2018; Claudia Lewis Award, Bank Street College, 2018; Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, 2018; YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers; Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Poetry, 2017

Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading—anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely.

When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey and, through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father—by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.

This emotionally resonant novel in verse by award-winning author Nikki Grimes celebrates choosing to be true to yourself.

Awards and recognition include: ALA Notable Children’s Book; Bank Street College of Education Best Books of the Year; Cybils 2016 Book Award for Poetry finalist; Junior Library Guild; Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Books of 2016; Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor 2017; NCTE Notable Verse Novels 2017

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Copyright on poems held by authors indicated. All rights reserved.
Other post content © 2018 Renée M. LaTulippe or as indicated. All rights reserved.
Author photo by Aaron Lemen.
Tree photo by Daniel Watson via Pexels (no attribution required).