The Future Is in Her Hands

I recently wrote about how cool it is when your kid is good at something that you aren’t able to do at all.  But how about when your kid is BETTER than you at something you are pretty good at? 🙂
My family are writers from way back.  My mother has a journalism degree; a former journalist for the Catholic press, she’s tried her hand at everything from children’s books to plays to feature articles on a variety of topics.  Her great-grandfather was the founder of the Kentucky Irish-American newspaper.    I know there are more and if she’s reading this she will probably chime in!
I like to think I am a good writer.  I’ve been making up stories before I could write them down.  I was co-editor of my high school paper and won awards back in the day.  I churned out A papers throughout college and got an Honors degree in English.  I was a reporter and columnist for the Catholic press for many years.  I wrote some pretty good X-Files fanfiction a few years back.  And of course there is this blog.
But my daughter Emily is the real writer.  She writes all the time–it’s necessary to her.  She fills up notebooks with partial stories, lists of names for characters, character sketches, story ideas.  She’s written two entire short novels.  She’s majoring in Creative Writing and plans to go to graduate school to continue studying writing.  All she wants to do is write.  I have no doubt that she will be a published author some day.  She is amazing.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so, because last week she was awarded the Rev. Andrew C. Smith, S.J. Poetry Prize at the Honors Convocation at Spring Hill College, where she is a Junior.
I cried when I read the poem, which hit pretty close to home (you’ll see) especially considering what I had just written myself the day before.  But Emily doesn’t think it’s that great, and I had to beg her to let me publish it here.  If you disagree with her, please leave some love in the comments.

The Future is Out of Reach When I am Holding the Past in My Hands
Nothing turns my stomach like the acrid odor
Of charred photo albums
And the five waterlogged childhoods
Lying smeared and ashy within.
The leather of the albums cracks
Like a battered body,
Housing secret pain.
What the flames did not get to,
The hoses made short work of.
Scorched snapshots
Bleed ink and memories
That my mother cannot face.
Twenty-two years of marriage
A life
A family
And a history
Leak into the whorls of my fingerprints;
My newborn face
Grandmother’s blouse
The green of the hospital walls
Swirl together and muddy the waters
And stain the skin on my hands
Coloring my calluses
Losing this picture feels like losing her twice.
There is mildew on my first birthday card
And I could drown in all this roasted ink;
These charbroiled mementos
Of a time when we had no idea
what real suffering was.
I salvage the past two decades that no one else will touch.
Great-grandmothers grandfathers friends cats Christmas trees rocking horses china dolls wedding gowns school uniforms jack o’lanterns baptisms
Form a fine layer of ash beneath my fingernails.
My hands are black with what we’ve lost.

0 thoughts on “The Future Is in Her Hands

  1. Susan Everett Harris

    Emily– I am sharing your tears as I try to type. You have created a beautifully crafted image of something that is painful. A sort of healing. I have not lost things to fire, but I have started over with very little of my written history. What I have chosen to keep (or rewrite from those times) have been rewoven into who I am today. I love that you see yourself as the guardian of your family’s keepsakes. Susan

    1. That’s lovely, Susan. Thank you for reading! I know, because of your concern for family history, that you understand what this kind of loss means. Thanks again for the new family heirlooms you sent us. That meant so much to me and everyone in the extended family was so touched when I told them.

  2. Oh this was so beautiful. I could feel the emotion – and it is exactly what I would experience if I lost all that. But the poem shows the memories are still there, and that they will live on. Perhaps with her talent for writing she can preserve your family’s stories…

  3. Elizabeth McD

    Wow. Really incredibly beautiful. it does just what Prof Betz tried to get through to the non-poetry students — poetry is about evoking emotion and transporting you into images with few words. (I know I’m not saying that well…although I will never forget his lesson with the poem with the chicken farmer imagery…) It brings us right into the loss and the sensory experience of trying to save what can be saved…the smell, the feel, the color…
    I hope Emily comes to appreciate at least how much this poem touches others. I also hope she’ll allow it to have a more public audience in whatever way is possible. I know it will touch anyone who’s lost heirlooms and memories for any reason….not to mention the rest of us too.

    1. I think you said it very well. I must have been absent on chicken and farmer day–I don’t remember that and it certainly sounds memorable.
      Emily will have to let this poem and others have a wider audience one day, since she’s majoring in creative writing and a writer is all she wants to be. Thank you for your kind words!

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  7. Leslie, thanks for sharing this. Your daughter Emily truly has the gift! It’s touching and so vivid. How I wish I could write as gracefully as she does! Your family is truly talented!

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