Friday, February 1, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: CHAIR

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tabatha (whose posts alwaysalways inspire me!) at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup. Is it really February?? 

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. Thank you, friends, for reading and responding! You're helping me keep going. :)

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.


First: a poem from ARTSPEAK! 2015:

 This Old Chair
- after “Sewing Chair” by Dorothy Johnson

Me, wait
for you?

That's not
all I do.

Turn me
upside down

and you'll
find proof:

I am also


- Irene Latham

... and now today's writing:
I was a picky eater as a child. Maybe this wouldn't have been a big deal in some families, but in mine the rule was “clean your plate.” There were times when I couldn't – or wouldn't – clean my plate. (Word choice there is completely dependent upon whether you were asking me or my mom!) On those nights, while my siblings played board games or watched a family movie, I spent the evening hours sitting at the kitchen table staring at the green beans (or whatever) on my plate. On those nights the hard ladder-backed kitchen chair became a boat or cave or spaceship. I'd push the chair back from the table and bring my knees up to my chest – a habit I still have today. I imagined and dreamed my way through those awful hours. Eventually the chair would become a chair again, harder than ever, so I would quickly stuff those green beans into my cheeks and dash for the bathroom, where I would spit them into the toilet.
For those of you out there who may be parenting picky eaters, I can tell you that this practice did NOT help me learn to love my vegetables. It DID make me super-compassionate when it came to raising my own picky eaters! The “clean your plate” rule was not one we chose to continue. And these days I'll eat pretty much anything – though I still don't lovelovelove green beans. :)

Finally, a poem that appears in my out-of-print book of poems for adults THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, which includes a number of ekphrastic poems. Now you know exactly where this one comes from... and how poetry is often a blend of fact and imagination.

Alligator Pears in a Basket
after the painting by Georgia O’Keefe

Eat, his mother said. You must
clean your plate. He crossed
his arms and clamped his teeth.
Sat at the table for hours.

By bedtime his mother’s eyes
blazed. You can’t make me,
the boy said, and the pears
came alive, their jaws snapping,
their leathery skin slapping
against his tender cheek.

And then they all went to bed:
the pears, the plate, the mother
and finally, the boy. His eyes
half-closed, ever watchful.

- Irene Latham


  1. I had to stop at "Old Chair", to comment. I'll go back and read the rest, but the image of the old chair...I have one just like that up in the rafters of my garage in Maine. It was mine and is waiting to come home. But the image of being a spider's home while it is waiting kind of makes me happy. Well, except for the fact that I'm not sure I want to sit on it again...

    1. Hard-boiled eggs - the whites. That's all I will say.

  2. Love those snapping jaws and leathery skin against a tender cheek. And that ending! Ever watchful. I can just picture you with your knees against your chest, waiting it out. xo

  3. Love this post -- all the poems, your remarks, the art. I'm picturing a defiant young Irene sitting in that ladder back chair. No "clean your plate" rules while I was growing up. My main enemy: liver.

  4. Oh, those pears! For me, it was beets and parsnips. UGH! I love how the child was allowed to "win" in the poem. I know I shouldn't. But, the old "my way or the highway" philosophy didn't do me or my highly sensitive/imaginative soul any favors! Love how you are shaping your year. I already have memories of a chair that needs to be written.

  5. Maybe we should be glad you had those hours to develop your imagination!?!?

    One of my favorite childhood food memories involves choice, not force. (Maybe that's how I made it through without the horror stories...) On Saturdays, Mom let me have whatever I wanted for breakfast. One of my favorites to eat sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons was Campbell's vegetable soup (straight from the pan) with a side of dill pickles!

  6. I love your spiders' roof poem. I put upside-down children's chairs on my sofa to keep the dog off. It's nice to think of spiders finding a home in our forgotten places.

  7. I've been working with the prompts from The Butterfly Hours, too, Irene, and really enjoying the efforts. Like everyone else - those pears made an impact\ on me, too. Fabulous!

  8. "ever watchful" & the new 'spider's home'. You catch the exact image & tone, Irene. I sat with friends one time when the father was attempting to make his son eat the broccoli. It was a terrible time that I wanted to escape. I feel for you & those green beans. I do love that you made it to the bathroom!

  9. Irene, I really like this project you are working on so maybe I will give it a try. One word triggered your memory and afforded you with inspiration to create. The last entry was just wonderful.

  10. "His eyes
    half-closed, ever watchful." and I think those eyes are still watching–what a powerful poem Irene! I like the fun lightness to your "This Old Chair" poem. Such memories these two conjure up, thanks!

  11. Irene,
    I just am seeing this now. I love what your project is and ordered the book. This whole "sit until you finish your food" rule only happened to me once. I never forgot it and really held it against my parents for a long time. I could not eat potatoes au gratin for over 35 years. Luckily this was not a daily issue. I can't imagine how that (your family rule) was supposed to help you or me or any child. Your poetry hits home and tells a story we can learn from. Like your creative use of your mind and imagination while you had to sit until you "ate"...I love the run to the toilet trick, too. Very clever. So happy for your book with Charles and all the wonderful attention you are getting for it. An important book.
    Janet Clare F.


Your thoughts?