Tuesday Afternoon Poetry

Harbor Hills Ward: Newport Beach

You emerge from your car, laughing.
“I forgot to tie my dress,” you say,
turning your back to me, and I do it for you.
And I think I understand how Cinderella felt
once, that early afternoon,
when the ball was still imaginary:

Standing there,
in her wrinkled black polyester,
grasping Drusilla’s sash,
her callused fingertips
not fathoming the silk,
it’s that fine, bluer than
Gatsby’s shirts, softer,
wealth slipping through her fingers,
fluttering, catching on a hangnail–
Cinderella hopes she doesn’t smell of onions
as she ties a lopsided bow
on her sister.


_____________________

This poem is a guest submission from Christi L. in Southern California. Christi is a pianist, a poet, a mother, a wife, and a Mormon.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I liked it.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Poignant (and painful).

  3. Living in a ward with a wide spectrum of wealth in the membership creates a very interesting (and often painful) dynamic that is hard to set aside during worship services.

  4. Knowing So Cal as I do, it is especially poignant. Not that it is explicitly about living in an area where others are much more economically well off than yourself, but this captures some of the feelings of the not so well off. Thank you, Christi L.

  5. Very nicely done.

  6. Christi, I can’t help imagining that Mr. Christi L. is the you in the poem. But he would never laugh at you, would he…

  7. Melanie2 says:

    Ouch–for Cinderella AND Drusilla. I’m suddenly feeling very protective of my friends in this and similar wards, who are some of the least wicked-stepsister-like people I know. Do we really need to name the ward to make the point?

  8. I served in that area as a missionary. This brings back great memories along with an understanding of the pain expressed in the poem. In that area there was always an (usually) unstated bitterness between those who lived on Spyglass Hill and those who lived in say, Turtle Rock (who called themselves “flatlanders”). Ironically, to us missionaries, who lived in a 12×17 converted garage, everyone in the ward appeared wealthy. Especially since some of the missionaries were from very humble circumstances.

  9. nat kelly says:

    I love this. Love the wicked humor, love the poignant portrayal, love the inventive use of an old tale. Love.

  10. Melanie2 says:

    Scott B. (10)–My mistake; I was reading quickly. But close enough, right? I see that MCQ missed it, too.

    My point is that I’m uncomfortable questioning the motives/righteousness/etc. of a ward (or, if you prefer, a fictional ward in a well-known, easily-identified California city) just because some of its members are wealthy. Wealth doesn’t equal goodness, but it doesn’t negate it, either.

  11. Melanie2 says:

    [Um, editors--if you deleted Scott's #10, will you also delete my response? Thanks.]

  12. Where I live in So. Cal, teens are dinging up nicer cars than I’ll ever own just jousting their way from the high school parking lot.

    I see my children in this poem as we’re planning our camping trip and they’re describing their friends’ cruises and trips to Hawaii. They don’t seem to realize they’re the rich ones in the eyes of the Spanish Branch kids who are part of our mutual. Those kids’ parents struggle to come up with money for scout camp.

    Melanie2, the poem simply illustrates feelings — feelings that either need to be overcome, or feelings that are caused by social injustice, depending on your interpretation. The rich people I know in my stake are truly wonderful people too.

  13. Melanie2,
    I am the editor, and I deleted my prior comment because I didn’t want to make a stink out of it. However, your #10 suggests that it’s possibly worth clarifying something:

    If you’re getting the idea that the poem is opining on the motives or righteousness or goodness of anyone in the ward, then I think you’re mistaken. What is being described is the feeling of being on one end of an economic spectrum in the presence of many others at the other end–regardless of the motives, actions, or words of those “others.”

    In short, I think you’re reading ill-will or bitterness where there is none.

  14. Melanie2 says:

    Scott B.,
    Thanks, I appreciate your clarification. I guess I took the Cinderella v. Drusilla comparison as shorthand for humble heroine v. spoiled villainess–which is a way that I’ve heard people (unfairly, I think) talk about the ends of the economic spectrum. But seeing the other comments here, I’m clearly in the minority. Sorry to cause a kerfuffle. I’ll bow out now.

  15. Good poetry often (usually?) transcends the specific content of the poem. I find it easy to broaden this one not just to “the feeling of being on one end of an economic spectrum in the presence of many others at the other end,” in Scott’s words, but to other spectra as well. Have you ever been the one who felt embarrassed or shy in the presence of some ward members because they seemed to know the scriptures so much better than you? Or because they gave a talk or lesson that seemed so much more polished than anything you could do? Or because they were ward leaders and you were “just” the one who took in the casseroles or took down the chairs year after year? Or whatever your personal sense of shortcoming is?

    Drusilla here turned freely and easily to Cinderella for help — there’s no hint that she looked down on Cinderella, but instead she took it for granted that Cinderella, who had probably helped in other ways so many times before, would be equally willing to help this time. There didn’t seem to be any distance between them in Drusilla’s mind, and if Drusilla thought Cinderella’s bow was lopsided or unacceptable, the poet doesn’t tell us that. Instead, the consciousness of difference was solely on Cinderella’s side.

    I think all of us are Cinderellas in some presences on some occasions. We all need to believe that our services, imperfect and humble as they are, are truly needed and wanted and appreciated, and not let our humility turn into something else.

  16. Interesting. Can’t help but draw on the good girl/wicked step sister analogy, but I think it is the irony of one who would think such a bitter thing considering themselves the Cinderella that makes it that much more compelling.

  17. Cool twist on the Cinderella story!

  18. nat kelly says:

    Whoa, am I the only one who read the lopsided bow as a deliberate, subversive revenge on the part of Cinderella? Certainly Drusilla deserves it in the fairy tale – as the character in the poem was named Drusilla, I considered that an indication of her behavior and attitude.

    I just love the idea of the abused servant girl getting back at her lazy mistresses by sabotaging her dress.

    It’s also possible that I harbor more animosity towards the wealthy than most others on this board…. hmmm…

  19. Nat, I think your subversiveness is showing. I read the lop-sided bow as being yet another way she feels inadequate, along with her onion breath and hangnail.

    Working in a hotel makes you hate rich people maybe?

  20. Come on folks, Drusilla is mean, evil, fat and ugly. You don’t get to use that name in a peom and then disclaim the baggage it brings with it. The Cinderella in the poem is unquestionably harboring some serious ill will toward her sister.

  21. nat kelly says:

    Towards her evil, wealthy sister, I think you mean, MCQ. :)

  22. Evil, wealthy, mean, ugly, uncaring and abusive sister!

  23. Heber J. Awesome says:

    The speaker is obviously not equating the “sister” with Drusilla, and to assume the equation is to overlook the nuance that exists in the analogy–yes, Drusilla was a wicked stepsister, but Cinderella never harbored any obvious animosity toward her sisters and, in general, behaved quite kindly toward them. Furthermore, the use of the word “sister” in the last line has an endearing tone in the context of LDS vocabulary–the “wicked stepsister” analogy creates tension, but the introspective and wistful tone of the poem refuses any exact, easy, and simplistic reduction of the sister to someone wicked and ugly toward whom the speaker bears any resentment.

  24. nat kelly says:

    I see the term sister as completely ironical. Sister, right. Like any sister who acts like a master is a real sister. And the statement that makes about the church, and how we treat our “brothers and sisters”, is important. How can you consider someone a sister and live a life of such uppity luxury at their expense?

  25. Mossbloom says:

    My experiences tend more towards me being Drusilla. It has been somewhat shocking for me to become aware of the conditions that so many of my brothers and sisters live in and that they will probably continue to live in their whole lives. And yet, they can still be so aware of their blessings and happy with what they have. How can the lives of two of God’s children be so dramatically different? I haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time with rich people. :)

    I loved what Ardis said. I’m definitely a Cinderella when it comes to prayers. I am so self-conscious about praying in public and when I hear a beautiful prayer, it makes me feel so much more inadequate. It isn’t that I resent the person offering the prayer, it’s just that I become very aware of my own shortcomings.

    Beautiful poem Christy L.

  26. Christi L. says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. I’m glad that everyone who commented got something a little different out of the poem and felt it worthwhile to weigh in. Thanks for the opportunity to share, BCC!

  27. How can you consider someone a sister and live a life of such uppity luxury at their expense?

    It’s shockingly easy, Nat Kelly. As a side benefit, when you have great sacks of cash, you don’t have to dress like a schlub, which allows you to grind on the faces of the poor in style.

  28. I really like this poem. I can certainly relate to it. Ditto everything Ardis said.

  29. Christi, I too like the poem. As I am not a poet, that is all the compliment I feel worthy to offer.

    Meanwhile, Scott’s comment (and to a lesser extent, the poem) reminds of Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace”.

    But consider the other side of that relationship. The rich friend (Madame Forestier) was horror-struck to realize that her attempt at generosity would go so terribly wrong and cause such grief, but no one sympathizes with her. Her life wasn’t the one thrown away in servitude to the baggage of inadequacy.

    I have myself been almost in every permutation of money relationship with others, and it is much harder to know what to do when you are the one with more money than a friend. The imbalance is like a stalker in the room. Attempt to treat, you are condescending or controlling. Split the bill evenly and you are miserly.

    I am more at ease around people better off than myself because I can talk about my recent trip to Iguazu Falls with the joy it brought me and the things I learned and saw, instead of parsing each syllable for any hint of bragging.

    Perhaps in the poem, Drusilla was truly thinking, darn this stupid dress. Thank God I have a friend I can trust to turn my back on without fear of what she might think or do. Or maybe Drusilla has cancer with 6 months to live and is about to use this excuse of alone time to share her fears of dying with Cinderella, and is not particularly bothered by the onions on her friend’s breath.

    Cinderella needs to own her own baggage and either carry it cheerfully or put it down.

  30. P.S. I used the word “friend” above instead of “sister” because the idea of having money conflict feelings with family (unlike, say, the fights over who took the last donut) is completely alien to me, and writing “sister” or “brother” would have made my point inauthentic. Any money I have is my family’s if they need it (obviously), and in my past I was helped out in a time of need and did not feel ashamed.

    I realize now too late, that if indeed the speaker in the poem is talking about a real sister (instead of, say, a fellow ward member as the byline somewhat implies) then I cannot relate to her at all, in which case my above comment would be way too flippant and off-the-mark and I would have to take it all back.

  31. nat kelly says:

    Dan – why do we call the members of the ward brother and sister if we are okay treating them so differently than we do our biological brothers and sisters? Makes it all seem like a bit of a sham, no?

    I think the way you talk about family and money is exactly the way we are supposed to think about our church family and money. Except, obviously, we don’t.

  32. Beautiful imagery. I love how many senses were involved. :) Is Tuesday poetry going to be a regular thing?

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