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***This is the thirteenth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem. All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series links are posted at the end of this piece.
Backstory of the Poem
“Holiday on ICE”
by Jan Steckel
by Jan Steckel
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? I have several Latino neighbors with small children, and one of them was the model for the child in this poem. The child and I were talking about the English and Spanish words for something, and then she told me the word in Mam. I asked her what Mam was. She said it was a language. I asked who spoke the language, and she said her mother and father and two brothers and she did. So I looked it up, and found that it was a Mayan language spoken in Chiapas and in Guatemala. One of the child's parents is from Mexico and the other from Guatemala, so that made sense. (Photo Right attributed to Christal Ann Rice Cooper)
I also have signed up for a lot of alerts from immigrants' rights groups so that I can show up for demonstrations, etc. One of them gives me text alerts on my phone warning about immigration checkpoints.
( Photo LeftProtesters call for immigration reform at the March 21, 2010 March for America protest in Washington, DC. Attributed to Border Community Action).
My neighbors put a chili plant in front of their door when they moved in. The Fruitvale, the Latino neighborhood of Oakland adjacent to my own neighborhood, has a shop with tin ornaments. And one of the Latino families on my street gave me a bucket of tamales near Christmas that were delicious. (Right Day of the Dead Parade in Fruitvale)
I keep a list of ideas for poems, and the penultimate stanza about the sun hitting the fence and turning the clothesline pole into a sundial came from that list. That and the fat squirrel and all the acorns is what I see when I sit in my back yard every morning drinking coffee and petting our cat. We have two California live oaks back there. That was the prompt that started the poem off for me on the day that I wrote it. (Left Photo attributed to Jan Steckel's of her backyard with the two California live oaks)
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was at the apartment of my friend and poetry mentor Julia Vinograd when I wrote this poem. It was near Christmas, and all these elements came together to make this Christmas poem. Julia's disabled and gets HUD housing, an old studio apartment with a galley kitchen and a walk-in closet that leads to the bathroom. Julia has a horror vacui, a fear of emptiness, and every bit of space on her walls is covered with art or memorabilia. Even the windows are decorated with stained glass pieces. She's particularly into skeletons, skulls, masks, gargoyles, Bosch, the pre-Raphaelites, colored glass globes, and rubber rats and snakes. The place is a giant incubator for the imagination. (Upper Right - Photo of Julia Winograd attributed to Robert A. Fischer)
What month and year did you start writing this poem? December 2017
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) Just a couple of drafts. Sorry, I don't have the old ones. I just correct the document on my computer.
I am trying to find what a chili tree looks like? Or what the scientific name of a chili tree is? I was wrong! it's not really a tree, but more like a bush. So I changed the word "tree" to "plant" in the latest version below.
Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? Well, the chili plant (Right) was a tree, which is wrong, as you tactfully pointed out, so now it's a plant.
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I want them to see through the small girl's eyes, the warmth of her family, and see the threat to her family posed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Left - Photo of Small Girl's Eyes attributed to Jan Steckel)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? Probably the stanza about immigration checkpoints. I get very agitated about my friends and neighbors getting arrested or thrown out of the country. (Right Photo attributed to Border Community Action)
Have you been to Guatamala and/ or Chiapas, Mexico and can you give me two specific memories – one per place – that influenced you in the writing of this poem? No, I've never been to either place, though I've been to Guadalara in Mexico and to a fishing village in the Mexican state of Sonora called Guaymas, as well as to Tijuana. (Left An outdoor market in Chichicastenango Guatemala in 2009)
Holiday on ICE
Cat chitters at mockingbird.
Aerial German Shepherd
atop the car on blocks barks.
A black-haired child waves
from the studio apartment
where she lives with her Mami,
Papi, and teenage brothers.
Tin ornaments adorn the chili
tree outside her door. Black
Virgin holds her holy infant.
Angels sing Spanish and Mam.
It’s cold in the North. Chili
chocolate will warm her up.
Oakland’s far from the village.
Mami tells Papi there’s a text
on the cell phone warning
immigration checkpoint nearby.
Sun hits the fence-top, makes
a sundial of the clothesline pole.
Acorns litter the lawn, squirrel
fat and can’t bury them all.
Everyone has to stay inside.
Family all together. Tamales
at Christmas. Baby Jesus smiles.
Note: Mam is a Mayan language spoken by indigenous people in Guatemala and in Chiapas, Mexico.
Jan Steckel is a former pediatrician who stopped practicing medicine because of chronic pain. Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her work was nominated three times each for the Pushcart and Sundress Best of the Net anthologies, won the Goodreads Poetry Contest twice, and won various other awards. She lives in Oakland, California. (Left Jan Steckel in January of 2018)
Amazon - The Horizontal Poet
Robert A Fischer’s web page
Jan Steckel’s Email
Jan Steckel’s Web Page
Julia Vinograd’s Biography Page
Zeitgeist Press - The Horizontal Poet and The Underwater Hospital
BACKSTORY OF THE POEM BIBLIOGRAPHY LINKS
001 December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”
002 January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”
003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”
004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”
005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”
006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”
007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”
008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”
009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”
010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”
011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”
012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”
013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”
014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”
015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”
016 April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”
017 May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”
018 May 25, 2018
Juliet Cook’s “ARTERIAL DISCOMBOBULATION”
019 June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”
020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”
021 July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”
022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”
023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”
024 July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”
025 August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”
026 August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”
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