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Sister Town

"Dreams are messages from the deep." ~ Denis Villeneuve

I assigned my students a two-part freewriting exercise for the beginning of second quarter. First, they need to read a short piece from Brevity called "Into the Woods" by Jesse Lee Kercheval. I'll link it above. Next, students create a short, found poem using words and phrases from Kercheval's story. Finally, they select a single word or phrase from THEIR poem and do a freewriting on that word or phrase. Maybe I'm asking a lot from my students the first week back from break, but they're a bright and creative bunch. To model the exercise, I create an exemplar. I do it myself before I assign it. Here's the found poem I wrote, based on Kercheval's "Into the Woods":

Sister Town

The three of us

Built circles inside,

Outlined imaginary walls.

We built the town of Us,

A sister town. Our town.

Shined up. Beautiful.

Each one of us.

Sister town is a real town,

And real things feel like home.

And here's the freewrite I did, based on the phrase "the three of us":

I miss my sisters. There are three of us, but I’m the only one in Hawaii. Twenty years this May, and yet the Pacific Northwest will always be home to me. My younger sisters still live there, as does our mother, all in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon. Early this morning, I was sifting memories in that liminal space between being awake and asleep. I was dreaming, mostly, trying to remember the feel of early to mid-October in the PNW. Closing my eyes, I imagined some of the leaves are beginning to change color and maybe even fall. The air might already have a crispness to it, especially in the morning and evening. And sometimes there’s fog.

Later in the month, wind off the Columbia Gorge will have a sharper bite of winter. But not now or not as I’m remembering. Chinooks – the strong, dry winds that warm coastal air from late autumn through winter–keep things temperate, for the most part. Icy cold fronts from Canada punch down from time to time to keep the weather spicy, but it’s nothing a good pair of boots, a waterproof jacket, and a thermos full of hot coffee or cocoa can’t fix. You see, people of the Pacific Northwest, we are Paul Bunyan people. We wear flannel year round and know how to swing an ax. We know the difference between a thimbleberry, a marionberry, and a salmonberry–all edible berries in the rubus or rose family. And we know that none of these tastes as good as a huckleberry, eaten straight off the bush while hiking. I’m romanticizing, of course, forgetting why I left, forgetting how my body hates the cold and how sick it gets. I’m forgetting that I’m not made of sturdier stuff and that “we” doesn’t always feel like me.

It’s a strange kind of homesickness when the mind desires what the body rejects. So the dreams of misty evergreens and the smell of leaf mold after rain and the warmth of woolen socks propped up near a fire, none of that matters today on the Big Island of Hawaii because I am miles and miles away, lost in wet, early to mid-October memories. Or imagined memories. Maybe it’s a story I tell myself. In today’s story, I am separated by 3,000 wide miles of Pacific Ocean. Today I am one of three, missing the other two and my mom. Today the feel of early to mid-October weather is a beating ache in my chest.

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