In 2008, Florida-based poet Nick Carbo published the poem “Directions to My Imaginary Childhood” in the Norton anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (eds. Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar). “Directions” sweeps the reader through the bustling streets of Manila and then, in an eerily meta-textual moment, onto the page itself (“open the door and enter/ this page and look me in the eye”). It also offers a set of instructions, directions, and pithy observations on the people and places of the speaker’s childhood; this, for me, was an access point into writing some childhood directions of my own.
As, in a sense, all homelands are a kind of fiction (for more, see Chapter One of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands), write a poem exploring the sights, smells, and idiosyncrasies of your childhood homeland, whatever your conception of that that space/time may be. Frame your exploration as a set of instructions: tips, insights, observations on how to best navigate the tricky terms of not only childhood in general, but your childhood in particular.
Here is an excerpt from my version of “Directions to My Childhood.”
If the meat lady catches you lingering by the catfish,
Goggle-eying the eels, she’ll pinch; better to watch
From behind mother’s grocery bag.
Watch for the sacred beam when you enter.
You may think Buddha is in tranquil meditation
But a careless foot will cost you.
A crumpled owl found at the bottom of the cage
Fits perfectly in my palm. The backyard fills with parrots,
Slow lorises, spotted turtledoves, and the cold forms
Of a rabbit and her progeny.
A can is not a good place to bury a bird.
You may think a lid will preserve it from decay
But when you see the sodden remains—
Though a “Directions” poem will generally operate in the instructional mode, you are of course welcome to explore alternative ways of framing your narrative. Take seriously the notion that all homelands are–or quickly become–imagined spaces, and allow this to authorize creative moves you might not otherwise consider in a poem. Have fun with this, and good luck! Please consider posting an excerpt or entire poem here for the Lantern Review blog community to read–we would love to see your responses.