Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ellen Hopkins - Small Surprises

Small Surprises
Ellen Hopkins


Traversing the hardscrabble hillside,
scattered shale makes empty promises
beneath your feet, rock
over boulder, beige
over brown.
The day leans long toward the west
and monotony clings to you like dust,
spattered in your sweat.
Below, sage and bitterbrush smear
to the far horizon. You tire
of the sameness. And you wonder
if God has grown tired, too.
In answer, at your feet, a sudden spray
of scarlet—Indian paintbrush,
rooted in sandstone.


Surfing waves of high meadow
wasteland, your boots trample
the blackened grass, lift
a memory of smoke-strangled skies,
wind, coughing cinders,
and the cries of those who fled.
At the perimeters, scorched
cadavers—Jeffrey pine
and juniper—bear intimate testimony
to the arrogance of man, careless
keeper of the flame.
Humbled in the face of such destruction,
you stumble to find,
midst charcoal and ashes,
a solitary green seedling.
Nearby, a thrush begins to sing.


With a tweak of the faucet, steam rises
to transform the temperate space
behind your shower curtain.
You enter your porcelain rainforest,
step on a blue plastic tugboat.
A curse foams up
into your throat, but before it can bubble
out, you consider existence
minus blue plastic tugboats,
wooden trains and Hot Wheels cars.
This child, thrust into your ordered life,
has roiled it into chaos
and cluttered your neat, neutral
rooms with tissue paper
collages, lopsided dream catchers
and crayoned I love you’s—small surprises
of great magnitude.

© Ellen Hopkins. All rights reserved.

There is something magical in the way Ellen Hopkins puts words on a page. It's more than just her remarkable word choice and imagery, though that's a huge part of it. But for me, it's also in how she uses space and line breaks in a way that I study and study to try and understand how they make everything even more powerful than it already is. I must note, though, that what usually happens for me is that I plan to "study" Ellen's writing but simply end up reading, even though I've read it before.

Ellen's currently writing for both teens and adults (no, no... not just her books which have always been read by adults, too. I mean targeted for adults!). But did you know that she'd written 20 non-fiction books for kids before she published Crank? This fact has always made me happy, as it not only shows the power of hard work and perseverance, but it also shows all of us who create that we should keep doing so. I think Ellen has found her voice, indeed, and I love, love, love the way she has bonded with her readers and with people in the writing community, too. For me, it's truly a huge pleasure and privilege to have Ellen Hopkins here today at 30 Poets/30 Days.

Yesterday, we had Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Secret. Tomorrow, Leslie Bulion with The Theory of Everything! For more on 30 Poets/30 Days and ways to follow along, please click here.


Joanna said...

Ellen's poetry rocks!

Liz Brownlee said...

Really enjoyed this! I write for the same audience- 9-YA-adult.

tanita✿davis said...

Oh, those are all three lovely - separate but equal. The last reminds me of stepping on my brother's Legos and my sister's stupid Barbie shoes - but had we not adopted them, there would be order and silence, as there is in mausoleums, so roll on tugboats in the shower.

catherinemjohnson.com said...

Loved this! A pleasure to read.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

so beautiful. Thanks Ellen, and thanks Greg for bringing this to us all.

Amy LV said...

Oh.... The hope in this poem fills me up. Next time I feel empty, I will remember this poem and look for the sign. Much gratitude to you, Ellen for writing this and to you, Greg for sharing. a.

BUFO said...

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Ed DeCaria said...

Wow -- I missed this the other day somehow. Simply excellent. You snapped me right into each moment and surrounded me with vibrant details above, below, and on all sides. Vignettes like these are miniature mental vacations; amazing that one can become so totally absorbed in something so briefly.