In 1993, in response to a poem in Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet, George Ella Lyon experimented with a “where-I’m-from” list, which he turned into a poem, and eventually into an exercise for other writers. His exercise has been used as a writing prompt in schools and other places. When I came across it a few months ago, I decided I wanted to write my own version*:
Where I’m From
I am from rocking chairs,
from Dr. Pepper
and Dodger baseball.
I’m from Looney Tunes and
volcanic kitchen experiments,
pie for breakfast, and Capture the Flag.
From sipping hot chocolate from a thermos
at the Rose Parade (I always burned my mouth);
pomegranates whose jeweled seeds stained my fingers, and
chocolate chip cookies with no nuts.
I am from the green house on the corner
where I practiced volleyball serves against the garage and
stayed up too late listening to music in my yellow room.
I am from oak trees
and the irrigation ditch behind Grandma’s house
where I collected rocks and staged swimming races
in the snow-melted water.
I am from matching, homemade
from card games
(“You can’t play with the grown-ups if you cry when you lose”),
writing poems in church,
pretending to be a horse galloping
I am from Pedro and Pokey, Taffy and
Mitzi, Honey Bunny and Tiger Boots
and Buster, the bunny
we found in the library parking lot.
I’m from the time I harnessed our cat with an apron
to help me put my toys away;
from the night no one asked me to dance
(I cried the entire next day).
I’m from trips to Taco Bell in Anita’s VW Bug,
and singing Devo’s “Whip It” on the courts at tennis practice.
I’m from Mrs. T and Dr. Mac and
The Outcasts of Poker Flat.
I am from
, Sacramento, California
and Cottonwood, from
land of beaches and Spanish moss and Rays baseball and Disney.
I am from the box in the closet
hiding captured pieces of myself, the photo albums
in the family room,
the flying pig and
the mint green mini Vespa on my desk.
I’m from all I was,
what I am,
and what I’ll be.
Lyon’s original “Where I’m From” poem here.
Writing “Where I’m From” is lots of fun, and can be done over and over again, as poem or prose, and each time the author will uncover some forgotten piece of him or herself. If you want to try it yourself, you can find a template to get you started here and another example of it here.
So I have one question for you: where are you from?