POW Prompt #9 / Big Tent Poem: Water

How did I begin? I’ll tell you. Picture
me, eight years old, sailor girl,
trying to traverse the seas by a boat made of books. I kept
travelogues in my head, piling them on top of each other until
upon completion, they made Ionic columns feel ashamed of
their own shortness. Now move forward and do it

again: fourteen years old, enchanted by Maya Angelou,
my eyes as puppet strings. How a word could
lift a finger, lift an arm, lift my head. You might already know
how easy it is to sew together pages and ride them
to Africa – I did it to find out
what kind of dust my DNA is made of. On a
ship hull made out of Alex Haley, I wore a hat made out of
Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus, and Esteban. I am
still looking for the tree made out of
my twice great granddaddy’s name – when I find it, I will
chop it down, build a schooner, and sail back
to my motherland. When I reach that coast, I will
travel up its arm to find my sisters,
match their wood up to my own, and then
call them mine.

Move forward again: now, I am sixteen years old. I built
a new boat out of granite, marble, and
alabaster. I plundered the curves of Dionysus’ face,
ripped the congregation of curls out of Apollo’s hair,
stole Jason’s mainsail and hoisted it up on my
own ship. And when that boat sunk, I weaved
Persian carpets made out of comet tails and
buried my face inside their fire and dust. I thought
that I could breath in God, fill my lungs with something
other than spit wads, color lines, and
stab wounds tattooed on me from school days shoved into
lockers full of switchblades, all open-jawed and
hissing my name. But instead of wondering why
Black and White had to be opposites, I stuck with

questions: like why Jupiter
wore red around his waist, and if it was a contact injury
from fighting Saturn for his own manhood. I ached for
emergence, pushing against the membranes, trying to erupt
from my town’s belly like his brothers: but it was all that I could do
not to suffocate inside and then slide out stillborn instead. How do you
run from fire? You dive headfirst into books
to escape the open, bloody maw of every Saturn
around every street corner inside a town
that wants to swallow you whole. Build boats
out of your own lungs. Grow gills before you
drown. Or if you can’t, slice the sides of your own neck
and make them yourself: you’ll have to try to breathe
through the blood. If you do this, maybe you’ll live
to see eighteen.

These days, I barely tread water. I used to wonder
if I would see the world outside of that town. You must know
that there is a concrete wall between my ears, bearing all of my
scratched-out days. That is how I killed years,
with the Chinese death of a thousand cuts. Did you
dream like me? Feel your neck, and tell me
if you don’t feel the raised up, half-moon scars
where you dug in your own knife. Yes, that is
the proof. You said it best: no one here
gets out alive.

First written 11/7/09
Rewritten 4/21/10
Revised 6/28/10

© 2010 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved


This poem is for both Poetry on Wednesday Prompt #9 (write a poem about a famous person, historical figure, etc. without naming them) and last week’s Big Tent Poetry prompt in which we were to write a question-and-answer poem, or some sort of conversational poem.

Okay, so I cheated a little; this isn’t a brand new poem. I wrote a very rough draft back in November, rewrote it during NaPoWriMo 2010 (but didn’t post it), and then revised it yesterday. It is an answer to an earlier poem I wrote in persona, “Truancy”. See if you can guess who I am talking to.


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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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23 Responses to POW Prompt #9 / Big Tent Poem: Water

  1. Rallentanda says:

    It is an American female writer, maybe poet,youngish (because of Maya Angelou influence.) Is it you?

  2. Stan Ski says:

    You paint a fine picture but any clues as to identity escape me.

  3. derrick2 says:

    Well, I was following Rall’s track and presumed it to be an African American person but also thought it might be autobiographical.

  4. Hey folks:

    Rallentanda and Derrick are on the right track as to who is speaking. And thank you all for your compliments so far on the poem.

    Now, you still need to guess who I am talking to. Keep in mind that this is an “answer poem”.

    Bon chance!


  5. pamela says:

    Beautifully written and I think it is you but who you are talking to
    I do not know!

  6. Hi everyone:

    Thank you again for stopping by. At this point, I might as well let the cat out of the bag, since three people have guessed it. The speaker is me. 🙂

    Now, who am I talking to? I’ll give you guys one hint: you may want to go read “Truancy” (there should be a link to it in the post) since that speaker is who I am replying to, and then look at the last two lines of this poem.

    Happy guessing…keep ’em coming!


  7. derrick2 says:

    Well, Nicole, I remember reading ‘Truancy’ first time around and enjoying the richness of the language. I know that was a sixteen year old male. Was he a younger brother?

  8. derrick2 says:

    I meant older brother!

  9. Hi Derrick:

    No, but you’re getting a little warmer. This individual is male, however. My eldest brother is 50 years old, and this person would be 66 years old now.


  10. angie says:

    I think I gotcha, nicole.
    my guess is you, talking to jim morrison.

    I absolutely love this poem, btw — the visuals of all the books and what you kept in your head from reading them.

  11. mark says:

    I know not the who…but I like the progression and the diligence in working an idea through that you did here. I tend to write it and forget it…And the effort was worth it. One of my favorites from your pen.

  12. Robert Lloyd says:

    This is a great poem and although I could wonder off on many tangents concerning it I must say I was stuck on the first lines:

    How did I begin? I’ll tell you. Picture
    me, eight years old, sailor girl,
    trying to traverse the seas by a boat made of books.

    It brought back memories of my brother and I actually using the many books in our house to build things. I know you were alluding to something totally different but I just remember us using the books to build a boat we sat in avoiding the sharks …and got lost in the thought. For that I thank you. I’m sure I will bring it up in discussion next time I see him(now that is 30 years later). You remember when….

  13. 1sojournal says:

    I love this poem, and I want to be you when I grow up. I could so easily get lost inside of the flow of words and imagery, and linger for unaccountable time. Your last line is the give away. You are speaking to Jim Morrison. Can’t thank you enough for this. Wonderful and delightful read.


  14. brenda w says:

    This is beautiful….sorry I missed you on the POW go rounds. The world caught me by surprise that day. Glad I found this now. I thought it was you as I was reading it, but wasn’t sure.

    This piece reads like an epic poem, it is a beautiful telling of yourself. I love love love this. Did I tell you that I love it?

  15. Tumblewords says:

    Without thinking, I sailed and searched with you. A delightful journey, the imagery is superb – you’ve surely woven a whole cast of characters into the piece. Nice.

  16. Mary Kling says:

    Wonderful poem. Imagery leaves me speechless. I don’t know who it is though…but hope to find out.

  17. twitches says:

    I’m guessing you’re speaking to Jim Morrison, based on that last line! Very musical and visual language; I like it.

  18. Erin says:

    Fantastic. So much to love and reread here. My boat was made of books, too…

  19. Deb says:

    I thought it was your own voice. Incredible. I’m not sure who it is directed to, but it could be so many, which is where the power really flies.

    So many metaphors caught me, but “… tell me/ if you don’t feel the raised up, half-moon scars/ where you dug in your own knife. ” sang. The absent but rhyming life to knife is absolute.

  20. Hello folks!

    Okay, Angie, Elizabeth, and Twitches caught me red-handed. I am speaking to Jim Morrison.

    Thank you everybody for taking the time to read and comment on this poem. This poem will hopefully end up as part of a project in which I am writing letters back and forth with other people — historical figures, dead artists, etc. I chose to rework this one because I’ve always had this “not quite done” feeling about it…but I knew that a little polishing would improve it.

    I think this poem, maybe along with “Truancy”, illustrates something, which some of the poems before and after these two will bear out: what it’s like to try to deal with our particular sets of circumstances — loneliness, lack of connection with one’s father and family, trying to escape inside books, and so forth. After reading about Jim’s life, I found quite a few similarities with my own: 1) both of our families moved around extensively when we were children, resulting in both of us going to several different schools and losing roots as soon as we’d laid them down; 2) both of us began writing poetry as teenagers; 3) both of us were bookworms and often would visit the local library, staying for hours (although in my case, I wouldn’t skip school to do it — with Middletown being the small town that it was, I would have surely gotten caught); 4) both of us had strict fathers who’d served in the military, as well as mothers who usually did not challenge them; 5) both of us endured abuse as children (in his case mental and emotional; in mine, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual); 6) both of us have struggled with self-destructive tendencies and addiction (in his case, alcohol, which lead to his death; in my case, food — which is why I ended up with type 2 diabetes); and 7) both of us have/had a condition which arose out of brain wiring and neurological development (in his case, there is very strong evidence that he was bipolar, although I don’t think he was ever diagnosed; in my case, I have Asperger Syndrome).

    Being an Aspie, I have a tendency to have narrow, obsessive interests. He (and The Doors) happens to be one of them. You could compare me to Cmdr. Data from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series: I tend to intake information and observations and then store them in my head in large-ish quantities. The big difference is that while Data tends to focus on a huge range of subjects, my focus is a bit more narrow: I will mine the hell out of a given topic. I’ve done the same with the Enneagram, MBTI/Myers-Brigg, music in general, the U.S. rock band R.E.M., poetry (tending to focus on a few poets and their life and work), and a few other subjects. My fiance says that I am a wealth of knowledge, and I’m thankful that he looks at my interests in this light rather than being put off or irritated by them, as some in my past have been.

    And thank you all for being just as tolerant. 🙂

    I don’t know how soon this particular project will be finished, but I value the feedback you’ve left here. I will see you around next week for more poetry.


  21. Aaron Asphar says:

    Great; you really command the imagery and I like the jarring movements between the stanzas.



  22. Pingback: November 2010 Edition of Poetry Super Highway Live « Raven's Wing Poetry

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