I hope my giddiness in sharing my success with the manuscript did not come across as vain. And I hope that Mixtape aficionados (hey, I like to dream big…maybe there are a few of you…) didn’t miss a new post too much on Saturday. Besides my good news this weekend, I have had a wonderful time visiting with my son, who is home from college on fall break, and happy news from other family members. (Weddings!) That much joy means less time on the computer.
So, in the spirit of poems about family and vanity, today I share the poem “Vanity” from Leslie C. Chang’s Things That No Longer Delight Me.
Hands clasped behind her back,
Grandmother walks, brisk
in black, cloth slippers, counting
under her breath. I’ve inherited
from her the habit of arriving
early, the smallness of her feet,
her discipline and her vanity.
Not her widow’s peak, not
her luck at cards. Not her vigilance
against looking back, not the past.
The whole book is full of wonderful stories of pasts and ghosts and relatives and the places we come from (or that the speaker comes from). The grandmother is a central figure in the book, but I particularly enjoy this poem for its simplicity and its sound.
That first stanza – “clasped/back/brisk in black” – carries almost a marching sound that parallels the mention of discipline in the second stanza. The short a sounds continue through the piece – “habit/vanity/back/past”- and the poem also softens with “l” sounds in stanzas two and three (“early/smallness/discipline/luck/vigilance/looking).
I like the idea of vigilance against the past, as if it is something to be feared or battled. This ending hints at many possibilities about this relationship- a familial connection to the grandmother, but perhaps a life that has been easier or less of a challenge. I also love the idea of thinking of your grandmother as vain; it is sometimes hard to picture our loved ones in their younger years or to allow them to have habits or flaws that we consider to be superficial.
I keep old photographs of both my grandmothers on my piano – my paternal grandmother at her wedding and my maternal grandmother in a “glamour” shot that she sent with my grandfather as he left for WWII service in the Army Air Corps. I like to see them this way as well as how I remember them in my head. Family. History. Vanity. Maybe they are not so disparate after all.
If you want to write:
1. Choose a relative and write a poem about what you did inherit from him/her and what you did not.
2. Pick one of the OTHER seven deadly sins (I am equating vanity and pride) and relate it to yourself or a relative in a poem.