Elegy for a small town childhood


I see myself in the stumps and pits
where trees used to grow
in the absence of the white pine
where I measured myself
against the height of green branches
that slowly overtook the front yard
and cast shadows that frightened me
as a girl

I see myself in the cracks
between the flagstones of our front walk
we used to scratch our names
into the blue-grey slate
and the rain would wash them away

I see myself in the pages of a book
starched crisp and white
like the cuffs of the men drawn
in pen-and-ink on the frontspiece
in the pages of a book I loved
the name of which I have forgotten


My mother kept a vegetable garden
not because she had to
but because she could
and because good things take root
in well-maintained soil

Seed to flower, flower to fruit
fruit to table—my mother knew
how to provide
the neighbors knew
who to call when they needed lilies
for their daughter’s wedding
or a cake

We walked from house to house
my brother and I in the dark
keys in our pockets not our hands
and anyway

we slept with the windows open
and the front door unlocked
and the smell of decaying leaves
on the wind


My children believe that three trees
make a forest
that a house makes a home
and so I take them camping
shelter them behind thin nylon walls
and we talk

We talk about privilege
and consent and what it means
to have a home that is a house
what it means to have keys
what it means to plant a garden

We talk about shadows
what it means to abandon them
for the deeper uncertainties
and how hard it is to stay awake
when our eyes want to drift close
and how easy it is
to sleep when it grows dark

I tell them how I grew up
measuring myself against the wrong things
afraid of the wrong shadows
I tell them how I am still learning to listen
to different stories and to write
my own books with my eyes open

This month, YeahWrite’s poetry slam is focused on elegies. Free verse is not in my comfort zone, so I’m counting this as a pretty rough draft. Gentle concrit appreciated.

5 thoughts on “Elegy for a small town childhood

  1. lauraduerr says:

    I both love and am heartbroken by the whole first section: cleared-out forests, lost childhood sidewalks, and forgotten favorite books are such relatable images. I agree with Nate on the somewhat confusing imagery in the second section – my first thought with lilies is funerals, personally. I think integrating more of your mother’s influence into the part about you and your brother not feeling a need for keys could strengthen the third section and tie together more with the themes of motherhood and childhood.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. innatejames says:

    I was intrigued by the contrast in the second stanza between the good things growing and the smell of decaying leaves on the wind. I also loved the bookends of measurement. I wanted to know what the wrong things were. The second stanza of the second movement stumbled a little at the end. The readers are shown seeds, fruits, and tables; a mother cutting lilies and then out of nowhere (for me) a wedding cake? Felt like an afterthought. Why is the poem adding marriage to this word pool? I hope that was gentle.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christine Hanolsy says:

      Ha, good point re the second movement. I was too much in my head. My mother baked wedding cakes – it was a thing she would do for neighbors, to provide – but that’s an example of where what I know and what I show don’t match. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.