Below Left: Title Photo - Tameca L, Coleman in March of 2019
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? This particular poem actually started as an interview. I was creating a long essay for an auto/biographical course during my undergraduate studies at Metro State College of Denver (now MSU).
I had chosen to write about my mother’s and grandparents’ time in Okinawa, Japan during the Vietnam War where my grandfather was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base because it was always a story I wanted to know more about.
I remember this project being particularly challenging, despite my initial excitement. I had planned to interview both my grandparents, my mother and also my Aunt about their time there. But interviews proved challenging.
But, when it came to my grandfather’s part of the story, Grandma explicitly told me that if I ever asked about that time, I ran the risk of sending him into an emotional tailspin because his experience was truly horrible, and to boot, he carried a lot of guilt in regards to the role he helped play out during that war.
I struggled with the final essay, but I had to turn it in. It is still a work I am not proud of, and also a work I would like to review to see if there is anything else I can salvage from it, perhaps mine more.
In my mind, there was so much irony in the fact that for my mother, this was one of the very best times of her life, and for almost everyone else involved, it was a time of stress because of the known dangers connected with the war. This point of irony became an anchor for me as I revisited the pages. I pulled out my mother’s account surrounding one moment, the visioning of this mermaid on the rock, and added enough background details to set readers in place. I tried to keep as much of my mother’s innocence during those times intact, and also remembering road trips we had taken when I was young, my brothers, parents and myself with my grandparents. I researched what I needed to. For example, were there starfish and conk shells on the Vietnam beach?
I often feel badly for treating the account with the imposition of this irony. But somehow, this is also one of the poems I am, even at this point, after having created a lot more work, feel the most proud. It is the very first poem I’ve published that feels like a co-written poem. To date, I have written two such poems with my mother’s voice, and I hope to write some more because many of her stories are stories that should be told. I hope that my want to create more of these kinds of poems is not an imposition on my mother’s voice, but an amplification of it. I also hope that in sharing these stories and amplifying them, it can draw us closer.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? I still feel guilt in having written this poem the way that I have. In some ways, I feel that I have stolen someone’s story that isn’t mine—namely, my mother’s. I’ve imposed my own sense of irony, and also published this piece of work as mine. I also feel sadness because I don’t know many of my family’s stories. When I began researching and writing this biographical project, I was excited to learn more about my family, but I so many times found myself against deep holes and dead ends in the text.
Many of these stories have died with my grandmother, and will most likely sift into the ground when my grandfather is also gone. I feel deep sadness about this because in some ways these stories, even if they were horrible, could teach me something about where my family has been, and perhaps also who we are, who I am.
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? The poem was published a few different places, including Pirene’s Fountain, admittedly quite some time ago: --> http://www.pirenesfountain.com/archives/issue_05/current_issue/coleman_temeca.html