Sunday, April 29, 2007

I am the Slave Mother (Christy Torres)

(NOTE: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a personal essay, using an assigned literary piece as a springboard. Christy Torres chose "The Slave Mother," by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as her springboard.)

His shrieks pierce the silence of the night. The rhythmic dance of inhales and exhales is disrupted. I can feel my mind slowly return to reality. My husband’s chest moves my hand slowly up and down. His breath continues its dance and he is oblivious to the cries shattering the night’s sleep. I force my eyes open and scan the dark room. My eyes stop on the clock, 3:42 a.m., its harsh fluorescent light mocks my loss of sleep.

I push away the covers and pull my hair up in a quick ponytail. I force myself to leave the warm haven of my bed and creep slowly to the adjourning room. He is crying hard, his breath catching in his throat before being forced out into the darkness. I open the door softly, and walk over to where he is sitting helplessly on the floor. I pick him up and look at his brother, still sleeping in his bed, undisturbed by his brother’s cries.

He lays his head on my shoulder and hiccups. I walk down the steps to the living room where I can rock him. As I rock him, I think about my life. The constant routine, the furious pace that leaves me exhausted, the never-ending cries that bombard my mind. I feel bitter. I am bitter because it was my sleep that was forfeited. I am rocking a toddler that is now asleep; however, one slight move, one break in the rhythmic rock and he will be awake and wailing.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. I have school. I dare look at the clock, the only light in the dark living room. 4:12 a.m....time is still mocking me. In less than three hours I need to be up and showered. I need to wake my daughter and get her ready for school. I need to wake up the boys, change them, get them dressed, and brush their hair and teeth. I need to feed them, make sure her backpack is in order, put socks and shoes on feet, push arms into coats and be out the door by eight. Drive to the bus stop, give a kiss good-bye, and drive to the babysitters, listening to “Crazy Car” three times on the way there. Pull in the driveway, unbuckle seat belts, put shoes back on wiggling toes, carry each boy on either side of my hips up the walkway, spill into the house, take off coats, smile as they run in screaming “Nana,” thanking God for the wonderful babysitter that I found. Kiss each one goodbye three times, and try to walk out the door while my youngest clings to my leg, not because he is upset but because he thinks the ride is fun.

Once I am finally out of the house I must drive back across town to school. I need to be at school by 9:30, and it is 9:12. I drive across town and for some reason “Crazy Car” is still playing…and being sung…I am in school all day until 3:15, and then I walk home. In the house by 3:25. My husband and boys are asleep, they will wake shortly. It is time to thaw dinner for my family. I must clean up the house, load the dish washer, and take out the trash, which should be deemed radioactive from the fumes being emitted from the diapers inside.

It is 3:40, time to get my daughter from the bus stop. She bounces off the bus, smiling. My heart swells at the sight of her smile. We walk home and she tells me that she needs my help with her math homework. We walk in the door and I can hear my sons awake and playing in their room. I close the front door and I hear, “Mommy, et me out my ooom, peezze.” I grab two diapers, wipes, and climb the stairs, open the door to two smiling beautiful faces. Pick them up, tickle them and change them one by one.

My husband wakes up and we all go downstairs. I make dinner; they play with toys that I must later pick up. We eat dinner, food is thrown on the floor despite my instructions to “Use your fork, eat pretty.” They once again play with my husband while I clean up the plates, cups, forks, and food scattered around the dining room.

The clock glares at me, I am racing against time, and it is 6:45. Time is competing with my children’s demands, and I am the one losing the battle. I gather PJ’s and draw the bath water, the boys get in the tub, my husband bathes them and I help my daughter with her homework. Their bath is over. I dress the boys for bed, get their sippy cups, read them a story and tuck them it. Three more kisses are given to each little boy, and to my delight I get six of my own.

I turn the bathwater back on and fill the tub for my daughter. She bathes, and gets dressed, and I tuck her in. She reads me a story and I kiss her, once, goodnight.

My husband is in bed. The clock on the nightstand mocks me still. It is 8:30. I kiss him goodnight, and he begins his dance with the night. I, on the other hand, go downstairs to clean up and tackle my homework.

I am frustrated, I am tired, and I am running on a constant cycle. I am a slave. A slave to time, a slave to professors, a slave to my husband, a slave to my work, a slave to the constant mess of toys and a slave to the gooey, sticky substance that is smudged between the pages of the book I am trying to read. But mostly, I am a slave to my children. I am a slave mother. As my mind leaves the day ahead and turns back to the rhythmic rocking and the sleeping two year old nestled in my arms, I wouldn’t want it any other way, even if it is 4:58 in the morning.

Author's Note

I chose to write a personal essay on “The Slave Mother.” This piece was extremely powerful to me and I believe that I reacted to in such a strong way because I couldn’t imagine losing a child despite the frustrations involved with motherhood. After thinking about the piece and reading it to myself at least a dozen times, and reading it to my husband twice, I knew that I wanted to write something related to this piece. I approached it a little differently because I can not relate to the exact emotions of having a child ripped away. I was unsure of what I wanted to write until my son woke up screaming the other night and I had to tend to him. I was frustrated because I wanted to sleep and as I rocked him I got more frustrated thinking about my life. Then I thought about the poem and knew that although I was in constant motion and was a “slave” to their needs, I couldn’t imagine losing one. I realize the time spent with them is a blessing no matter how tedious the task throughout the day is. I think the maternal instinct and emotional attachment in the poem is what connected me in such a strong way and enabled me to portray my own emotional attachment to my children in this piece.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

August 2026: The Day My World Collapsed (Sarah Moser)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a short story. Sarah Moser chose to write a prequel, from the point-of-view of the family dog, to Ray Bradbury's "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.")

I lay on my rug in front of the fireplace just waking up from a deep, dream-filled sleep. The day before had been full of intense activity and play. The prospect of what today might hold was almost too much to handle. I had even woken up to my feet furiously fluttering, as if running at high speed. After a brief stretch, I was ready to begin my routine. It always made me stop and stare, head cocked, when I moved away from my rug. The funny, little mice came out, buzzing furiously, while vacuuming up the hair I had left behind. In my younger days, I would bark at these interesting creatures, but now I just watch in amusement, day after day.

Walking over into the kitchen, I waited for the muffled voice I knew would come. Tick-tock, five o’clock, time to eat, time to eat, five o’clock! As if coming to greet me, a nook in the wall opened up to reveal a small robot Dalmatian carrying a miniature hose. It zipped out to my bowl and a stream of cold water majestically began to arc out of the nozzle. A minute passed and the Dalmatian, hose-in-hand, retreated into the wall it came from. The water tasted amazing! It always did, but today it seemed to dance on my tongue as I lapped it up. Almost on cue, three choices lit up on the screen behind my food dish and a new voice asked, “Turkey and gravy, Lamb and rice, or Beef and potatoes?” This was my favorite part of the day, until dinnertime any way. I pressed my nose to the Beef and Potatoes option and a robotic arm emerged clutching a can. A small saw buzzed in a circle around the top and the arm flipped over. The moist food glistened in my dish. Eat up, no time to waste, no time to waste, eat up! In a moment, the food was gone and my stomach was pleasantly full.

As I strolled back into the living room, a voice chirped again. Five-six, time to play, time to play, five-six! A bundle of toys appeared in the corner of the room; a rope, a few balls, and a bone. Normally, I would take turns playing with each of these toys until my family woke up. Today, however, all I wanted to do was go outside and play. After that fantastic dream, I was ready to run. One whine at the front door was all it took and I was free.

Outside, a breeze was blowing and the air was filled with familiar smells. The one that caught my attention was the scent of a rabbit. The hair on my back perked up and my eyes did a quick scan of the perimeter in search of my target. There it was! I darted over the hill and followed the speedy rabbit into the woods. Around bends and trees, carefully avoiding roots and rocks, my family should be up by now, but I persisted in my pursuit. Suddenly, as I ran through the winding creek a brilliant light seared my eyes.

The next thing I remember is waking up with half of my body in the creek, I didn’t know how long I had been unconscious, but my stomach told me I hadn’t eaten in awhile. My weak body struggled to get up. I felt nauseous, but sheer will-power kept me moving in the direction of home. The family must be worried!

What felt like a hurried pace was more of a slow crawl. As I came over the hill, I saw funny markings on the wall; however, my only thought was going inside to let my family know I was alive. Arriving at the door, a chill swept over my body and I let out a whimper. The door opened. I was feeling so weak that I barely even noticed the robot mice scurrying all around me. I hurried from room to room. What is going on? Where is everyone? I knew something was wrong, but the smell of breakfast lured me to the kitchen. The familiar scent was a small comfort. My family was gone and I frantically tried to think! The room started to get hazy and I felt myself spinning in circles. I fell to the ground and my last conscious thought was of my family and the hope that I might be with them once again.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pursuit of Absence (Lindsay Klunk)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel of a poem, story, or play. Lindsay Klunk chose to write a prequel of Sylvia Plath's poem "Edge" as a stream-of-consciousness short short story.)

February 6th, 1963

My hands are tired from carrying out the tasks of yet another painstakingly long and meaningless day in this place that hardly deserves the name of home. A more suitable name might be “residence,” or “quarters." I stay under this roof, inside these four walls. I don’t live in this place. To say that I live would suggest that there is some life inside this shell of a body. There is no laughter or smiling faces in this place, at least not when I am present. It is late, but the night differs little from the day for me. My days blend together from the lack of sleep. My world is one of 24 hour periods of monotonous time followed by more 24 hour periods of monotonous time. This never changing process is too much to bear, mostly. The children sleep and I am torn. Shall I take them with me, or leave them behind? Surely no good mother would abandon her children. Would any good mother have kept them to suffer along side of her for as long as I have? Oh, the quandaries I face this night, and every night. For I have thought to go on with it every time the moon is full, or half, or absent, or anywhere in between. She is gone this night. Perhaps I will join her soon. And be absent. I do miss her lonely smile, her lonely eyes when she is not present. But she always returns, as do I. You see, on occasion I have gone beyond simply thinking of leaving. I have left. But something drags me back here, every time. The stillness of this night engulfs my body like an ocean. The darkness surrounds me as I drown in a sea of my own short comings. I have failed miserably at life, and I am unable to succeed, even in death. What a triumph it will be, what a glorious day when I take my final breath and God carries me home. Mother Earth will finally have had enough of me. She will breathe a sigh of relief to see me go on my way. This world will be at peace to be rid of me. And I will be at peace to be rid of her. She has shown me no hospitality. My heart aches at the thought of what could have been, things that should have been, but will never be. Guilt and regret claw and tear and rip at the very core of my being. My soul is weary, exhausted from the battle within. Will my soul sleep? Or will it be awakened with a new life, with new opportunities in a new place? One can only hope. Would an eternity of rest be so terrible? My thirty-one years have left me with little more than enough energy to pry my eyelids open when the alarm sounds at seven with that persistent and undying burst of ungodly noise. An eternity of rest might be refreshing. The children stir. What is left of my cold heart seems to be fighting its way towards the back of my throat. I have got to face it. I simply must take them with me if they wake. It will be my sign from God himself. He will make the decision. It is in His hands now.
Author's note

I attempted to take on the persona of the woman from the poem, while keeping Plath’s voice. I wrote this piece as a diary entry, which is why I chose not to separate it into paragraphs. It is more of a stream of consciousness piece, from the point of view of someone about to commit suicide. I intentionally jumped from one thought to another in an attempt to recreate the irrational thought process of someone who is so out of touch with logical thought. I realize that I took a risk in writing this way.
LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007
Published with persmission

There Will Come Soft Rains (Autumn Darbrow)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of rewriting a story, poem, or play in another genre. Autumn Darbrow chose to rewrite Ray Bradbury's short story "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" as a poem.)

Tick tock, seven o’clock.
Breakfast is ready
In an empty house
Standing all alone, steady.

Tick tock, eight o’clock.
Time for work and school,
But the house is empty,
The air is calm and cool.

The breakfast is old
And discarded right away.
Dishes are cleaned
And put back to stay.

Tick tock, nine o’clock.
Robot mice come darting out.
It’s time to clean.
They do it with no doubt

They whirl around
Cleaning every spot;
An empty house immaculate
Not even a dot.

Tick tock, ten o’clock.
The sun shines now
On a city of ash and ruin.
This house still stands somehow.

The west face has been burned.
No pretty white paint.
Only spots here and there,
But ever so faint.

Tick tock, eleven o’clock.
The house is paranoid.
It waits for the tenants
To come fill the void.

It still asks for passwords
And inquires who’s there.
Nothing better come close.
It better not dare.

Tick tock, twelve o’clock.
A starving dog cries.
The house opens the door.
Its voice it does recognize.

The dog searches
For the long gone family.
It soon realized the emptiness
The house can also see.

Tick tock, one o’clock.
The dog runs around, cries,
Spins in circles, bites.
Then it dies.

Robot mice come flying out
And dispose of the dog.
An incinerator burns it to ash
As if it were a log.

Tick tock, two o’clock.
Bridge tables fold down.
Playing cards flutter out
As chairs sit all around.

Martinis appear
Ready to be drank
With egg-salad sandwiches
Sitting on the bench’s wooden plank.

Tick tock, three o’clock.
Silence still around.
No cards being played.
No laughter. No sound.

Food is cleared away
With drinks following, too.
Tables fold into walls.
Silence still seeps through.

Tick tock, four o’clock.
The nursery comes alive.
Animals on the wall dance:
Many different types, even butterflies.

Giraffes, lions, antelopes
Dance in brilliant colors.
Some animals move to the waterhole
Followed by all the others.

Tick tock, five o’clock.
Bath water falls.
The tub is filled up,
And steam the mirror draws.

Tick tock, six, seven, eight o’clock.
Dinner dishes come out.
Inside the study, a fire is lit,
And a cigar burns, patiently waiting about.

Tick tock, nine o’clock.
Circuits turn on.
Beds become warm
Thwarting a waiting, cold dawn.

In the study a voice comes alive
And asks Mrs. McClellan for a poem choice.
No reply comes back.
“Sara Teasdale, your favorite poem, then,” says the voice.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Tick tock, ten o’clock.
The house begins to die.
A tree bough crashes
through a window.
Cleaning solvent shatters over the stove. “Fire!” comes a cry.

Doors spring shut
As the house tries to live,
But windows are shattered open and
Oxygen to the fire the window gives.

Water falls from the ceiling.
Tiny mice try to help, too,
But the water reserve is empty.
The house is through.

Walls are burnt, revealing wires,
And voices cry out until the fire stops them.
The house falls down now.
It’s not even worthy to condemn.

As dawn approaches,
There stands one wall.
The fire did not get it.
This one did not fall.

A lone voice comes from the wall saying,
“Today is August 5, 2026.”
It plays repeatedly over and over.
“Today is August 5, 2026.”

LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

A Prequel to Alice Childress' “All About My Job” (Julie E. Pennella)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a story assigned for the course. Julie Pennella chose to write a prequel that retained the original dialect, still from Mildred's perspective.)

Well, Marge, I was walkin’ home tonight from Miss Jennie’s and, wouldn’t ya know, it was gittin’ cooler out and so I put my coat on. I hate that raggedy ol’ thang, but it wasn’t doin’ me no good carryin’ it, so’s I put it on anyhow. I dug my hand into the pocket and, do ya know what I found, Marge? There was a ticket for that fancy movie theatre over on Main Street. And with the ticket I found a note from Miss Jennie. It said, “Thank you for all your hard work this week. See a movie on Thursday night. My treat.”

Can you believe that, Marge! Miss Jennie treatin’ me to a movie. How nice! Well, come to think of it, she probly is just tryin’ to keep ma mouth shut about Mr. Dixon stoppin’ by the house this afternoon. Miss Jennie’s husband don’t like it when that man talks to Miss Jennie. Actually, he gits aweful mad at her for it. Miss Jennie don’t seem to care much though. Mr. Dixon already been over to the house twice this week and both times Miss Jennie would fluff up her hair and put on her red lipstick before she answer the door. I don’ know why she likes that color on her lips anyhow. It looks like her mouth is bleedin’ or somethin’.

But, anyhow, Marge that’s not all I wanted to tell ya. As I said, I was walkin’ home tonight and I found the ticket in ma pocket. I was holdin it in ma hand as I was a walkin’ and this nasty wind came and blew it right outta my grip! I was so mad at that wind I could’a kicked it if it had a physical bein’ to it. Marge, I looked around where I was standin’ and around where I looked for damn near ten minutes for that thang! I was too damn dark to see nothin’ and that ugly wind was blowin ma hair in ma face. Finally I seen it lyin’ in the middle of the street.

Well, Girl, I walked over to it, to grab it before the wind blew it up again and before I knew it I was gettin’ tackled to the groun’! Ya know what happened, Marge? A car almost took my out! That’s right, it almost ended me right then and there. Luckily, this man quick pushed me outta the way of the car. It hurt some, but I’s just thankful to be alive! Marge, I tell ya, the man saved my life!

Well, I got maself collected again and we stood on the sidewalk talking for ‘bout a half hour. He was a nice man, Marge…good lookin’ too. Tall and big with great big hands and shoulders and deep dark color skin, like chocolate. Yeah, Girl, he was a looker! And he looked like the kind’a man who has a good appetite. Someone who be needin’ a housewife to cook for him and take care of him. Well, Marge, we got to talkin’. I told him my name was Mildred and he says I looks like a Mildred. Do ya think I looks like a Mildred, Marge?

Anyhow, he told me his name is Henry and we got to talkin’ bout this-n-that and where I was headed and everything else in the universe. But, Marge ya know what happened next? I told him I was a houseworker comin’ home from Miss Jennie’s. I know…ya thinkin’ so what. Well, soon as I told him that, he said he had to be gettin’ home to his wife! His wife, Marge! I’ll be damned if he actually got a wife! He was talkn’ to me for bout a half-hour on that side walk and he wasn’t wearin’ no weddin’ ring on his finger! He ain’t got no wife, Marge! He was just usin’ it as an excuse to stop talkin’ to me. That’s what men do, Marge…it’s easy for em’ to just say they takin’. Gotta be getting’ home to ma wife! Men like him, they don’t want no houseworker. They want a pretty-face, size-ten or so, red lip stick-wearin’ girl who ain’t no houseworker with a free movie ticket.

Damn he was a good man though, Marge. He was a good man needin’ a wife. Girl, you been married before…Ya think he has a wife? Ya think he really is takin’? I suppose it could be the truth. Girl, thank the Lord I got a friend like you, cuz Lord knows when men like that come ‘round we be needin’ friends to keep us goin’.

Epilogue (Author's note)

I chose this piece as a springboard because I really liked the sense of pride that the main character portrayed throughout the story. In the beginning of the story, she says that she hates her job as a houseworker, but by the end, she changes her mind and realizes that she should not be ashamed of her occupation. I felt like I could relate to the story in this way because I grew up on a farm, working hard for my parents all my life. My mother was always a homemaker, keeping busy with the farm; she never had a paying job outside of our home. While I knew some other children whose mothers were housewives, it was not too common among families. Most children had mothers who were dentists, teachers, hairstylists, and even artists. Growing up I was somewhat ashamed of the lifestyle my family lived; however, I look back now and realize that I am proud to have grown up under those conditions. It instilled in me a sense a pride and a good work ethic.

I also liked the stylistic aspects of this writing. I enjoyed reading the story because I felt like the main character was personally having a conversation with me. The story is written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner. It takes on the form of a person talking to another. The main character rambles on with her thoughts, sometimes going on tangents. I tried to simulate this style of writing as I composed my prequel to the story.

I also tried to write using the dialect that the main character uses in the original story. As I wrote the prequel, I used words that are grammatically incorrect and some sentence fragments here and there. It was a little difficult to keep the writing legible, but it was actually quite fun. As I was writing, I was talking in my head with a southern accent! It actually helped!

There were also many elements of the story that I used to create an idea for the plot of the prequel. I wanted to include Mildred’s negative feelings toward housework in the prequel, since that is where the original story begins. I also wanted to end the prequel with Mildred feeling thankful to have a friend like Marge, since this is also mentioned in the beginning of “All About My Job.” I chose to include an encounter with a potential mate for Mildred in the prequel because, in the story, she talks about her need for a husband and mentions that Marge has been married once. She also talks about her weight, referring to herself as a size fourteen. I used all of these elements to come up with a plot for my prequel; however, I added some unrelated elements of the story such as, the character of Miss Jennie, and the story about the movie ticket.

In all, this piece was very fun to write and I think that it is a pretty decent prequel to the original story.
LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission

I Am a Motherless Child (Valerie Anderson)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students were offered the option of rewriting a poem into a story. Valerie Anderson decided to rewrite "Motherless Child" [Anonymous], an African-American (Negro) spiritual, into prose.)
No sense in pretending anymore. Life has been too long and too hard for my brief twelve years on earth, on this plantation, on this same God-forsaken piece of earth. I am abandoned and I am alone.

I do not know who my mother is or who my father is. I do not know who this “God” is that the other Negroes sing about. I feel like a motherless child because that’s what I am. I am motherless, fatherless, Godless, hopeless. When I pick cotton I try to daydream, try to close my eyes and imagine a family and a warm wooden cabin with a freshly swept dirt floor. I can hear my momma singing as she stirs a stew over the fire and I can hear my pa’s soft and hypnotic voice telling all of my brothers and sisters a story.

In this house I can smell the fresh, clean earth, devoid of blood and sweat. That smell coming from over the hills is a feast for my family to enjoy, and not for the white family that has enslaved me and caused me to forget, to never know, who I am and where I came from.

In my daydreams it is my birthday, it is April 15, because that day is always beautiful and sunny and flowers are in bloom. It is beautiful, just like my momma tells me I am. I am wearing a clean new cotton dress that belongs to me and only me. It is not a dull brown color, smeared in dirt and sweat. No one has worn it before me because it was made just for me. And I look just as fresh as the beautiful April day.

But the story stays the same – just a story. The crack of a whip and warm blood trickling down my back bring me back to a harsh and unpleasant reality. There is no cabin, no stew, no dress, no ma, no pa. There is only myself in my dirty clothes and cracked and blistering hands.

I am a motherless child, a family-less child. Yes, I know I have been adopted by the older slaves as their own, but it’s just not the same. I am their child for their own sake and not for my own. I am replacing their children but I don’t want to be a replacement, I want to by part of my own family. How dare they pretend to know how I feel! How dare they call me selfish and stubborn when they can’t possibly understand how my life is! I do not feel lucky to be alive, to be provided for, to be loved by God. I feel alone and miserable and spent.

This life is too long and too hard and I know that there is more to the world than this. I know that I could endure my breaking back and bleeding hands if I was loved, if I had a family, not just the mournful and pitying eyes of slaves just like me, whose position in life is not much better than my own.

I feel ready to quit, ready to lie down and die in the dirt that I toil in day after endless day. I am a motherless child, forgotten in a world of motherless children. I have no more hope, no more future, and only one foster parent – the cruel and unforgiving King Cotton. What a poor replacement for the family and love I want more than anything. I feel like I am almost gone.
Epilogue by author

When I was in high school, I sang an a cappella version of this spiritual. In order to be able to sing this with feeling, I tried to imagine what it would be like to feel like a motherless child. This prompt gave me an opportunity to imagine the back story that I had already partially developed several years ago.

Although the poem is fairly simplistic, it is still incredibly powerful. I wanted to create a short piece that had the same power behind it as the fifteen-line poem that I was inspired by. The part of the poem that struck me the most was the line, “Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air.” I really wanted to focus on what would help a slave feel unburdened by their hardships.

Therefore, it seemed entirely appropriate to me that the person who would relate most to this poem would be a young child who is not only motherless, but also doesn’t feel as if she has a place or purpose in the world. The added tragedy is that the child is so young and already wants to give up.

My goal was to create a story that read like an extension of the poem, and I think I accomplished that. My story is about a girl who is imagining an escape and a better life, just as the author of the poem is imagining flying away from her circumstances.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

Biography of J. Alfred Prufrock (Lauren Penkala)

(Note: in Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature, students are offered the option of responding to literature in a creative manner. For T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Lauren Penkala decided to write J. Alfred Prufrock's biography--from the point of view of an added character: Emily, his sister. This piece was done during a 75-minute test)


I, L. Emily Prufock, sister of J. Alfred Prufock, think of my brother as a man who lived an interesting life. Here today, at his funeral, I will give a short biography of his 68 years of life.

When I think of my little brother, I think of a mischievous boy, always curious, throwing caution to the wind. He got himself into more trouble as a child than all of our other siblings combined, but this helped him in the future. He did learn from his mistakes, and this made him an experienced contemplative, deeper man.

In his teen years, he became more quiet, but not shy. J. Alfred loved the ladies, and most loved him as well. Maybe it was his dark, full head of hair, or his muscular, masculine frame. Maybe it was his occupation – a business man. Some say it was because of how handsome he always looked in his simple yet eye-catching business suit. He listened to music on a regular basis – to help him clear his mind. Alfred was an orderly person who hated not knowing the future, and planned out his every moment – all the way to his death.

After work, Alfred, despite his handsomeness, did not go out with the ladies (he only flirted), he went home for a quiet evening alone, where he drank tea, had toast, and watched his sleek yellow cat, Chester.

Alfred could have made many friends, and probably even found a wife. But he was a hard worker and valued his time alone. He did not enjoy art, which made it difficult for him to relate to a woman once the relationship got past flirting (if it ever did).

Alfred got his strong body from walking on the beach. Sometimes Alfred ran. He imagined mermaids in the ocean, and he swam too, but never found a mermaid.

My brother had one weakness, the fear of death. After retiring from the business world at a fairly young age, 40, he began to have this fear. He wrote much about it too. Alfred even spoke of it to me. He read the Bible and believed in God, but that did not end his fear.

So he wrote about it, hoping the fear would disperse. Alfred compared death to his cat, Chester, and worried so much that by the age of 42, he had a bald spot shining. He was very self-conscious and thought people were talking about him. As he grew older, his body withered quickly, becoming frail and thin. Alfred went from a mischievous boy, to a confident teen, to a successful business man, to an old, weary man of age of 55. We assume that a disease overtook him – a 40 or 50 or 60 year old man should not look as badly as he did. He wept, fasted and prayed, as did we all, but he did not improve. On his final day, he requested to be taken to a nearby window to look out at the ocean. This was difficult for me, an 80 year old woman, but I managed – I could see it in his 68-year-old eyes that this was his last desire. I lugged him to the window, and left to prepare lunch. When I returned 25 minutes later, he could not be awakened. He had met his mermaid.

Maybe he could reunite with mom and day, our two older sisters, and my husband. Maybe, just maybe he is no longer afraid.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

I Am Woman (Jamie Sterlacci)

I, too, am a woman

I am heavier then most
My hair is not perfect
My skin is blemished.
The boys call me
To complain about the others
I listen
I answer
I laugh at their silly ways.
They look through me.

One day they’ll call me
Just to talk to me.
And I will know it’s because
Of who I am inside.
I’ll listen
I’ll answer
We’ll laugh at their silly ways.
He sees into me.

One day, they’ll see
That under my skin I am gorgeous.
They will be sorry they undervalued
What I can do.
But I won’t need them; I never did need them.

I, too, am Woman.


I used Langston Hughes’ poem "I, Too" as a starting point for my poem. His poem is about how black people are oppressed and shunned. They are ignored and considered a lesser being, but others do not realize what they, specifically Hughes, are capable of. Hughes does plan to show them what he can be – that he has the potential to be something great and that he will rise up against the oppression. Hughes is proud of who he is and considers himself an important part of America. One day, people will be ashamed of how they treated him and they will appreciate him for all his worth.

In the year 2007, although most people do not make judgements based on skin color, they still judge people on the way they look – if someone is not as aesthetically pleasing as others, they are often judged and become outcasts. I know that most people have felt less then beautiful at some time in their lives, including myself. People who are outcasts because of their looks are oppressed in sort of the same way as African-Americans were during slavery or in the South under the Jim Crow laws, when Hughes wrote this. The less beautiful are kept apart from those that are considered to be better looking, just like black people were separated from others. These separations have nothing to do with who is better, smarter, or earned the right to be considered accepted. Instead the separations are based on shallow notions that what a person looks like on the outside defines who they are on the inside.

It is important that people do look past the exterior and get to know someone because they could be truly great on the inside. My poem is based on the idea that all women are beautiful, not just the ones who are obviously so. It also stems from the idea that the only way some one can be completely happy is to see past looks and get to know someone and appreciate him or her for it. Relationships that are based on looks become as shallow as the reason for starting it. On the other hand, relationships based on love and appreciation of the other person tend to give the most pleasure to both parties involved. This is similar to the relationship between white and black people in the South. Because they were not working together, the people of the South did not reach their full potential. Instead, there was always fighting and people dying senselessly.

The woman in the poem finds someone who gets to know her and love her for who she is despite her weight, skin, and hair, or maybe even because of them. She thinks maybe one day other women will see how great she is, but she will not need them as friends. She realizes she has never needed anyone who is shallow. She knows that their shallowness prevents them from reaching full happiness and she laughs at them for it.

Like Langston Hughes considered himself an important and overlooked part of America, the woman in the poem is not appreciated because of her looks. Both poems recognize the potential of the oppressed and how great things could be if people saw them for who they are.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission