Self-portrait at Seven


I’m afraid of the cold, the wild
and the grandmother who never smiles

Her shoes have holes on the side
where her feet poke out

Her neck falls down from her chin
to her chest and her eyes are sad

The new house feels empty; my toys are gone
daddy’s left, and mommy cries all night long

It’s three blocks to catch the bus
I run past houses and the Chow that bites

I transfer on the busy street downtown
another bus takes me to the Catholic school

I have no friends there like I had last year
They call me names and think I’m strange

Everyday when I get home, I sit on the steps
I read my books and sing some songs

Inside there’s only loneliness
I guess it’s because the baby died

© Gay Reiser Cannon * 12/9/2013
All Rights Reserved

79 thoughts on “Self-portrait at Seven

  1. oh heck gay… that brought tears to my eyes… the loneliness is palpable in this… and then that last line…you tell a whole story and emotionally take us three storeys deep in just a few lines..

    • Thank you Claudia. It just distilled. This time of year raises all sorts of memories and this was when my life irrevocably changed. I still don’t know if it’s poetry but your words reassure me it’s something.

  2. Oh…it’s poetry…and I think some of the best kind.

    We need to feel a connection, even if our lives, and cultures are different, there is a same ribbon of humanity and responses in everyone. That’s unless one is unable to connect to

    these basic human issues. You start out with very common and observant fears of all children…and then (love the biting Chow!) you weave a day (life then) of troubled increments…school

  3. lonliness, and then the zinger: the dead sibling. Oh, this makes me cry! The pathos is not worked or layered on, Gay, it’s true to life. And that is some of the elements in the best of poetry. Frankly, I am reading a lot more critically (Frost, in part) and I am ‘seeing’ things that I believe make up what is poetry. Love this, it rings true and in it’s simplicity, goes straight to the heart.

    Lady nyo

  4. well that was a punch in the gut i did not see coming…your opening line hooked me….as the inclusion of gramma got me wondering…and things start to pile up from there…dad gone, the family in disarray, feeling alone in all of it…and the logic it takes to get to the baby dying….oy….

  5. Oh, this got me in the gut, Gay. I also was uprooted at 7 and it’s so hard at that age. But that’s a story for another time. You really evoke those emotions of displacement and rejections–at least for me. Merry Christmas, dear lady.

  6. Oh goodness, Gay; you really helped me to live the emotion of such an experience, which is not something I’ve had happen in my life, although professionally I have had to support others as thye have faced similar circumstances.

  7. amazing blend of storytelling and poetry… the reader isn’t leaving with wonder bcus this feels very complete… saddest thing is, this poem is the life of a family somewhere out there… and yes i’ve noticed you’re out and about. Hope you’re doing well, good to see you, Gay.

  8. You have really captured life as it was; and sometimes life is difficult. Sometimes children go through much, but it is a good thing that so often they come out the better for it on the ‘other side,’ as it is obvious happened with you. Perhaps your experiences helped make you the empathetic poet that you are.

    • Thanks Mary. When one is living it, one doesn’t say anything. I remember coming to the realization that this was the new normal and it required a reticence and the courage to keep going forward. That probably pulled me through a lot later on. Appreciate your response, thank you.

  9. We are what we are, not so much from the experiences themselves, but what we make of them. It is those leave us unpleasant may also serve to make us transformational . . . and your writing helps. But you probably know that.

    I hope there are less bouts with loneliness or in the least, out of the experiences they are better managed.

    It is a poignant read, the tone is firmly set.

  10. You really captured all so well, and then wow, the ending which put it all in painful perspective. I have had a number of painful childhood memories, they tend to stay stuck in the mind, like a portal. Really well written, and tenderly expressed- with a perfect punch.

    • Thank you Dawn. As one gets older one tries to deconstruct your life and some periods come into focus and you realize that it was then, that moment or that transition that formed you, set in motion reasons and reactions that affected decisions you would make the rest of your life.

  11. Brings back memories of my own alienation and loneliness. You so successfully entered the mind, heart and soul of a little girl. Beautifully done!

  12. You are so very much in touch with the inner child, the mark of a sterling poet. It’s incredible what we recall from our childhood, those formative memories; with me it was growing up with three stepfathers (never knew my biological father), & how I took the uncertainty & pushed past it, forging a type A personalty out of necessity, always having to prove myself, always the new kid, always wary; grateful for a stack of presents & wishful prayers during the holidays, making the joy stretch to early Spring; nice job, Gay.

    • Yeah – right there with you Glenn..didn’t have stepfathers. My mother became a bookreading recluse who couldn’t face the world, working as an RN at nights and I took up the piano for company – thank God I still have it even though my renegade left hand is posing a constant problem these days (smiles). Thank you for the comment and wishing you the best of holidays – load up on everything you like – life is short but funtimes are forever in the memory at least!

  13. What a great choice to use couplets, step-like, leading to those steps in the final two lines. A place in between all the unhappy places, where to sing and rock a self who has also had losses, maybe more than anyone in that house, in that school. The economy of your writing belies its depth.

  14. A very intense interesting read expressing the alienation and loneliness of a seven year old. Seven is the age of realisation. I suppose this ensuing comment is biased because I can relate strongly to this poem but I do not see your experience as a disadvantage. It has added a dimension of empathy and insight to your life you would not otherwise have had…a gift in a many ways! Merry Christmas Gay!

  15. The voice here is steadfastly faitfhul to a 7-year-old’s timbre and mood, particular in details which stick in memory and wondering at all that isn’t right, all a 7-year-old can’t know but does. Someone — it was Robert Bly, I think — said childhood is a golden ball we’re left the shards of after growing up has taken most of it away. Loved this work. – Brenddan

  16. Sad to learn that it is about you.
    Remember the time when kids were allowed, expected even to make their own way through busy towns. Unthinkable these days.
    Hindsight is so much clearer and so much sharper. Is it always trustworthy though, even when it doesn’t include judgement.

    • Yes, I think about that. We had a very busy Air Force Base in that town. It was always full of lots of young men. People didn’t talk about what went on inside other people’s houses and we were taught not to get involved. Children going missing was almost never reported but children felt the chill of walking past strangers who stared.

  17. This is a portrait that is like a cut-out–everything but the central figure described in detail, so we are left with the voice really, very strong, and her silhouette. Well done. K.

    • Thank you K. Yes I felt incidental and didn’t want to be in the way I vaguely recall. I built this as the remembered images of that change in my life and the move to the other grandmother and that life as opposed to the one I’d had before.

  18. The message here resonates with many, particularly at this time of year when feelings, emotions, seem to travel to extremes…What I enjoy most is the way you’ve laid this out: a series of discrete images, some seemingly unrelated, but all relayed simply, directly and in a style and language just the way a child might report the strange familiar events going on around her. Another impression is that your stanzas almost serve the way I imagine a Chinese pictograph does. A mark, filled with implication, a story of its own. Pardon my expansiveness here, and I’m not sure if I’ve seen to what you intended, but the poem is very effective. Fine work.
    Steve K.

  19. Steve, you do me great honor. I woke up with the idea the other day. I’ve been thinking a lot of my grandmothers and this grandmother hadn’t been a part of my life until that time. When I had the idea those images were what came, moving, having my father disappear etc. But I wanted that broken quality of one image separate from another which does stick in memory. If that is in any way related to the succinctness of Eastern pictographs then I have surpassed my goal here. Thank you.

    • And so very confusing. It’s important to realize children are rarely told what is going on inside a marriage – why it breaks up and they are ripped apart without any explanation. For me everyone just acted as though it had to happen and I couldn’t understand the logic. I blamed all the changes on the fact that the baby had died which was probably far from the whole explanation.

      • That’s so difficult!
        it is amazing how adults so quickly forget what their once child minds were like, and to be sensitive to them- nothing is more impressionable

    • Maybe that’s why it rose to the surface. I’m not sure. It is kind of a bummer poem, but I appreciate all the insightful comments I’ve received and am wishing you a wonderful holiday and happy new year.

  20. I am bombarded today with interruptions to my intentions to get my friends’ poetry read. Bear with me. I’ll get there in time. I’m hosting Meeting The Bar tomorrow so hopefully I’ll see some of you there as we gear down the site in preparation for the New Year.

  21. Sad but beautiful write.
    Tis also sad how children are (with the best of intentions) excluded from knowledge essential to understanding changes in their world and the loneliness that ensues…
    Anna :o]

  22. Very poignant and depicted with such poetic grace. Your use of the two-lined verses really helped give your poem a 7-year-old voice. It really makes me think, small children are observers and they are affected in deep ways by things they don’t understand. That really comes across here.

  23. I remember having the priv. of reading this when you first wrote it, and reading it right now, this morning, at dawn, it has the same punch…in fact…more. This is so excellent, Gay. It distills the fears and the reality of childhood down into a powerful poem. It IS a poem, and one of your finest in a way. Different, but the voice comes through so clearly and heartbreakingly so. I love every line because it sings true…my experience, yours, childhood. This is a marvelous piece of work, Gay. I love especially that line about ‘the Chhow that biters!

  24. “Chow that bites”. LOL! This is the one break of humor (maybe) and it gives this poem something. Needlesss to say, I love this poem! Brutal honesty from a child’s perspective.

    Lady Nyo

  25. Dang it, Gay–that is so pain-filled. The 2nd line surprised me as I thought it was going in the direction of a nature poem. And I guess in a sense, it is–the dark side of humanness. Some aspects of this are so familiar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s