Who am I? ‘Self as Travelogue,’ ‘Who?’ and other poems exploring identity

April is National Poetry Month. We’ve invited readers from across the Central Coast to share their best original poems dealing with self-identity and diversity.

Here is a sampling of the poems. We will be posting new poems at throughout the month.

[»» Start at the beginning]




“Self as Travelogue”

By Bruce Henderson, Grover Beach

I’m from New Jersey

From the Meadowlands and chemical factories

with New York City a short bus ride away

And from the flat Midwest horizon of Ohio

surrounding the college where I studied

From rainy Seattle where I went for another degree

hiking in the North Cascades and gazing on Rainier

From the San Francisco Bay where I wrote and taught

and learned vegetarianism and yoga

From Santa Cruz with its beaches and redwoods

From upstate New York for my last degree

crossroads villages and cross-country skiing

cabins in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley

Then teaching in hot steamy central Florida

my students working jobs at Disney World

From Babylon Long Island and the Cross-Bronx Expressway

teaching at another job and visiting New Jersey

Then a university near home as a last stop back east

before migration to Southern California,

palm trees and warm days and too many cars.

Now I’m from the Central Coast’s rolling hills

with polite drivers and local folks who say hello

small beach towns and the friendly streets of SLO

an island midway between metropolises

leaving behind the bustle for quieter thrills

~ ~ ~

“The Goddess of Holy Reversals”

By Marnie, San Luis Obispo

She spins the impossible:

No one said she could

Keep going

When the election results

Are grim,

Her debt kept

Getting deferred;

She left her job of five years,

And her lover of

Her lace time

Is taken by dark forces.

But she kept going

On a thread of cryptic poetic words,

Wrong actions, and stagnant

Waters knowing eventually

All would reverse:

Turn into

Their opposites.

Eventually, diving into

The abyss

She climbs out

With such grace.

~ ~ ~


By Marsha Thorlakson, Los Osos

Where did I come from?

What’s in a name?

Who am I really?

Wanna play this game?

I’m from Seattle, Washington,

How about you?

I’m a feminist democrat

Yes, that means blue!

I’m a daughter

How about you?

Got some siblings?

Maybe a few?

Who am I?

Who are you?

What’s your sign?

What do you do?

I’m in Los Osos

Where do you hail?

Paris, Brussels or

Colorado’s Vail?

When did your ancestors immigrate?

Or are you Apache, Cherokee or Sioux?

In any case

Happy to meet you?

~ ~ ~


By Ben Collins, Grover Beach

Odysseus’s object, Tow’r’s progeny,

Surname, Dmitri, Ivan, Alexei,

Featherless biped’s soul in solit’ry,

Javert’s long stride, Chateu d’If’s stern sway,

Sherlock’s slant, Watson’s helical ladder,

The Hammer, Lisbon’s earth–rending in frame,

Darwin, paradiso, Iago’s ire

Virgin birth, Karenina’s final train,

Nebuchadnezzar’s palatial view

or at pasture wet with heavenly dew?

~ ~ ~

“His Death May Have Caused My Life”

By Linnaea Phillips, San Luis Obispo

His long hearts-moon at 51 ended.

My deep child’s breath at 18 began.

He who introduced the butterfly as lepidopterous

And minute summers in brackish

Ponds as cyclops, turned huge in

A microscope...

He filled my little child life with questions:

What is the earth and why?

Why do blackbirds rise from secret rushes?

Why can a nesting moon on a mountainside

Tell a strata story a million years old?

My breath now questions:

Who would ask; who would answer?


~ ~ ~

“On Being a Redhead”

By Joyce Zimmerman, Atascadero

Red-haired people are few and far between,

In some areas of the world, totally unseen.

Mystery surrounds them since they’re so rare,

Myths and folktales arise due to their hair.

Because they are different, they are bullied and teased,

Painful remarks are not easily appeased.

Down through the ages villains are portrayed

Having abundant red hair wildly arrayed.

Reputedly redheads are said to be

Hot tempered, passionate, and act irrationally.

People are warned to watch out for them

When crossing their paths; they can expect mayhem.

Beloved characters on the other hand

Gloriously red are considered quite grand.

Anne of Green Gables and Little Orphan Annie

Your own Auntie Ellen and sweet ageless Granny.

There’s an instant attraction that can’t be denied

When redheads see others off to one side.

They know it’s rude, but can’t help stop and stare

They’re curious about where they got their red hair.

So you see they are really special and unique

But no way would you ever call them a freak.

Like everyone else they are trying to live

With what blessings they have to share and to give.

~ ~ ~

»» There’s more: Click here to read the next set of poems

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San Luis Obispo County poet laureate Jeanie Greensfelder reads her poem "At Sweet Springs Preserve," at the location of the same name, in March 2017.

»» More poems: In troubled times, SLO County poets seek to comfort and inspire