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Where I’m From: Seven Decades in Seven Scenes

An island poet from North Carolina recounts a life defined by books, music, and events far beyond her control.

I am island crabcakes and Coppertone,
I am am imaginary friends and get-well bouquets from Miss Fannie’s yard,
I am am Nanny’s butterbeans and Pappy’s chickens,
I am am following Aunt Mildred’s finger across the hymnal page:
I am am “Jesus Loves Me,” this I know.
I am Johnny Horton and Patsy Cline and Bill Monroe.
I am am The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Chronicles of Narnia.
I am am she-sells-seashells-by-the-seashore.
I am Hurricane Donna.

I am junior high in a hated house on the mainland,
I am am putrid pink princess phone and canopied bed,
I am am Siamese cat, collie dog and portable typewriter.
I am am singing Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez:
I am am “Blowing in the Wind” on the guitar I cannot tune.
I am John Kennedy and Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King,
I am am To Kill a Mockingbird and David Copperfield,
I am am high school newspaper and president of the Bible Club.
I am do-not-get-caught-smoking.

I am back home to the island and asthma gone,
I am am sailing and surfer boys and putting up shrimp,
I am am love-beads and patchouli oil and white rabbits.
I am am idolizing Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:
I am am “Find the Cost of Freedom” rips pain in my soul
I am on my knees in Ohio and in Vietnam and in Watts.
I am am Be Here Now, Howl, and “Burn Baby Burn.”
I am am coffeehouse and Mama’s house and my house. Our house.
I am colleges that cannot contain me.

I am my apartment’s yellow kitchen table in candlelight,
I am am Earth Mother and Merlin the Magic Cat’s mom,
I am am black coffee and I am with the band.
I am am wailing Janis, Jerry, Jimmy, John, Jackson, Jerry Jeff.
I am am “Before the Deluge” and “Margaritaville” and “Imagine.”
I am technical writer and Edgar Cayce and Shirley MacLaine.
I am am The Color Purple and The Prince of Tides.
I am am Tarot cards, crystal balls, and camping on the river.
I am all the lives I’ve ever lived.

I am far from the sea, my touchstone, and I am lost.
I am am grad school and frightened I’ll fail,
I am am ethnography and master’s thesis.
I am am learning Lisa Thiel and Enya and the Waterboys:
I am am “Ostara” and “The Whole of the Moon”
I am Starhawk and Lee Smith and Sue Monk Kidd
I am am The Spiral Dance and Oral History and The Secret Life of Bees.
I am am my yellow table stripped and varnished, no longer me.
I am historic house and magnolia trees and the river saves me.

I am my parents’ ranch house and lasagna gardening,
I am am between salt water creeks where I hear, but cannot see, the sea.
I am am Rosebud Reservation, Badlands and Black Hills.
I am am Traveling with Willie Nelson, Buffy Sainte-Marie and the Eagles
I am am “On the Road Again” and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
I am Joe Marshall and Jean Shinoda Bolen and Sue Bender.
I am am The Lakota Way and forever Crossing to Avalon.
I am am I-will-always-be-a-second-class-citizen-teaching-in-academia-with-no-Ph.D.
I am full moon circles, women’s mysteries, rituals, signs and omens.

I am Goddess and Glastonbury, Stonehenge, and Cornwall,
I am am when-it’s-time-it’s-time, running with Wolf and flying with Hawk.
I am am home to the sea again in a house not mine. Afraid.
I am am Praying for John Prine, Kate Wolf, and Rhiannon Giddens.
I am am “Angel from Montgomery,” “Across the Great Divide,” “Waterbound.”
I am Wendell Berry and Aldo Leopold, always Rachel Carson.
I am am A Sand County Almanac and Silent Spring.
I am am My neighbors kill coyotes the way they kill maritime forests.
I am sunrise over the roiling sea and oyster beds and Hurricane Florence.

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About the author

Author Profile

Deb Bowen lives and writes on a North Carolina barrier island. She is the co-author of "A Good Friend for Bad Times: Helping Others Through Grief." She has a novel and several other works in progress.

16 thoughts on “Where I’m From: Seven Decades in Seven Scenes”

    1. Dale, I understand what you mean, I think. I think all of us are the sum of all we’ve ever been, ever seen, heard, felt, touched, experienced in any way, even smells and tastes – I am the perfume of the marshes and the taste of oysters fresh from the mud. Thank you for commenting!

  1. clairecoenen@gmail.com

    There is so much I love in this poem. This part especially makes me smile and ache and feel seen <3 :

    I am far from the sea, my touchstone, and I am lost.
    I am am grad school and frightened I’ll fail,
    I am am ethnography and master’s thesis.
    I am am learning Lisa Thiel and Enya and the Waterboys:

  2. Deb, thank you for this astonishing poem. I think I am your biggest fan. I love and relate to everything you said about grad school, teaching with no PhD. I also love how you love the land you belong to. This poem reminds me of Whitman’s assertion: “I contain multitudes.” You certainly do. And don’t we all? This made my day.

    1. Allison, thank you so much! I love your comment – I had hoped the poem would speak to all parts of ourselves, and I’m honored you feel it does. Blessings, Deb

      1. Hi Kit, apologies – I don’t know why I didn’t see your comment when it appeared. I’m grateful for your kindness about my poem, and delighted to know those same events and emotions that stirred me throughout my decades also speak to you! My best to you and blessed be, Deb

  3. I absolutely Love this!! Your words as a testament to your souls life journey through your words, songs and places in time is both nostalgically familiar and comforting and so generous of you for us to see a greater & deeper sense of YOU! <3 I too am you in a lot you write, just spilled over and overlapping in a decade, maybe. Born in 1960 being too young to rebel but with 6 siblings above to teach me to "Light my own fire". With much Happiness and Love of parents who "let us Be", our own individuals, appreciating & celebrating the uniqueness of each one or their 10 children. Coming into my own in the 70's I took with me all the power of the flowers, the Love for life, the Earth and Nature, the freedoms od Spirit. And like you, I too through my experiences & memories, carry around, in my now "getting old" bones, the wisdom of my life experiences, good or bad, as the gift that it is. And that is that Life is Beautiful! In the words from a "beatnik writer" I've always loved & from my hometown of Lowell, Ma whose life experiences, so hard most of the time, once wrote "Love Your Life, Every Minute Of It" ~ Jack Kerouac. Thank you so much for sharing your written talents with us and taking me down memory lane and all the way to the here & now. To the place in time & space which we now share. As we are both here in written words and presence together. That Sacred Circle where we are all connected in the vibrations of Love that will always Stand the tests of time & change ❤ Most Grateful & Blessed Be.

    1. Hi Anntonnell, I’m so sorry – I don’t know why I didn’t see your comment when it posted. Thank you so much for your kind words, and I appreciate you reading my work. I love knowing we share those experiences and emotions! Blessings, Deb

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