Children and childhood, with pieces by Johanna DeMay, Kristin Davis and Dian Seidel.
Johanna DeMay is a third generation American but spent her childhood in Mexico. She said that immigrant parents preserve identity by sharing family stories with US born children, and, she said, “it’s no different in my own family.” Here’s her poem “Oral History Project.”
Fingers arched over his keyboard,
my eleven-year-old grandson Aaron
calls me to the kitchen table.
Where were you born? When? Family name?
Hebrew name? Which relative came here first?
My father – just 14 – ran away from Vitepsk
to join the Russian Army, fight in the Great War.
They turned him away. He had hammertoes.
Spiked eyebrows punctuate Aaron’s
surprise – like before & after
question marks in Spanish.
Yes, “hidden toes” just like yours.
With ordinary toes he might’ve become
a soldier, died on a frozen battle field.
My grandson glances at his bare feet.
What’s your favorite memory of him?
When we crossed the bay to Roqueta
in a motorboat, he swam across. Mother
muttered about riptides, jellyfish, sharks.
Playful as a seal, he plunged past breakers,
rose from the water, a shimmering merman,
bellowed, I’m hungry, let’s eat!
Keyboard forgotten, Aaron cracks his knuckles.
What made Great-grandpa Sam so brave?
I shrug, He survived a pogrom.
How do you spell pogrom?
Johanna DeMay from Passager Issue 72.
Kristin Davis said, “For me, poetry is a way to capture fleeting moments, memories, and discoveries.” Here’s her poem “Little Denials.”
I can’t say what inspired me
to sell Chiclets door to door
on our dull loop of split-levels.
Or why my mother bought a dozen
boxes of gum, cellophane-wrapped,
which I took without asking.
Do your parents know
you are selling these?
my neighbor Mrs. Ross asked,
before handing over a quarter.
I lied – surely this was just
like selling Girl Scout cookies.
Did you buy these yourself?
Mrs. Troy wondered aloud,
before buying two packs,
twelve sugar-glazed pieces,
two tight rows in each
flimsy paper box.
Mrs. Sharkey picked the box
on the bottom of the stack,
from which I’d taken a piece,
chewed it and spit it out
when the flavor, the thin shell was gone.
Maybe she wouldn’t notice.
She shook the pack.
We both could hear five Chiclets
gliding back and forth, clicking
against one another in the void.
Are you sure they’re all here?
She looked directly into my eyes.
Yes, they are all there,
expressionless, almost believing.
pressed her lips together,
gave me the quarter.
Kristin Davis, “Little Denials” from Passager Issue 68.
Shortly before the pandemic, Dian Seidel and her husband went to Pathumthani, Thailand to teach English. Here’s an excerpt from her recounting of the experience.
Our class looks like a little platoon. The tiny children stand, arm’s distance apart, toes lined up on a seam in the playground’s artificial turf. Each kindergartner is in uniform – plaid shorts or skirt and blue shirt. Each shirt has a child’s name embroidered on the right breast, which will make our first day at Pathumthani Prep a little easier. Some stare, some smile shyly, at my husband Steve and me, their new teachers.
. . . According to the schedule Teacher Mahalia has created, we will lead the morning assembly starting next week. How will we learn these songs, and whatever others come next? Will we rely on four-year-old Ivy to lead the singing?
A slow, sweet melody fills the air, and, on this cue, all the children sit down. I’m impressed with their posture – no one is slouching, and their little legs are folded into beautiful lotus poses. The music swells, and the children take in a deep, audible breath. Their hands move as if to guide the air toward their faces, which grow visibly calmer as they sing,
I’m breathing in
I’m breathing out
As flowers bloom
A dozen pairs of little hands form petals, slowly rotate, and rise.
I watch little chests rise and fall with alternating lines of the song, as the verse repeats. At an instrumental interlude, the children gently cover their faces and turn their gazes inward. The gesture brings a flash of memory from my childhood – my grandmother is covering her face while chanting the blessing over the glowing Sabbath candles. This moment in the sun on the playground seems almost as sacred.
A little finger taps the back of my hand. It is Ivy.
“I think you like to sing, don’t you?” I ask.
“Oh yes I do, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo,” she assures me.
An excerpt from “Pathumthani Tales” by Dian Seidel from Passager Issue 70.
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For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.