Various Instructions on Returning Home to the Midwest (or, How to Fashion a New Pledge of Allegiance)

Many things are true at once.
—Elizabeth Alexander

1. Begin collecting the reactions.

a. “Small town America.”
b. “Cornfields.”
c. “Homely.”
d. “Suburban.”
e. “Slow.”
f. _____________________________
g. _____________________________
h. _____________________________
i. _____________________________
j. “But why would you want to move back?”

2. Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

3. Witness the child by the river as he collects the melting snow, scooping clumps of ice, wood chips. His mittens already damp. He seals his loot into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Praise the freezer, his awe. Praise hands.

Spring, and a woman runs on the trail in front of you, holding what you presume to be a selfie stick. Arrive closer. Recognize what she carries: trillium, mayapple, in green stalks. She stoops to gather another stem. Salute her. Or run past her. You share the path.

Witness. Are you sure? Look again.

4. Begin each day with an offering.

Great Lakes, flower beds.

Pickerel Lake.

Youth poets holding microphones, looking you in the eye.

What do (will) you choose?

5. Remember when you strayed from the path. Recall a ritual. Record its rhythms:

Each Sunday, your parents sent you to Chinese school in a rented-out engineering building, where you practiced performing slow syllables with your mouth, rehearsing characters: ,, , !

In high school, during breaks between classes, you walked to Wendy’s in a pack of other girls, ordering eight-piece chicken nuggets with tiny tubs of honey mustard, which you’d eat with a fork, or sometimes, with your hands.

6. I say I’m from ______________________________, and they’re like __________________________________.

I say I’m from Michigan, and they’re like, The hell? They think we’re just . . . a state full of cornfields and white people, Y says, referring to her West Coast colleagues.

Trouble that. Unwrite the script. A state full of cornfields, fish cooked in oil, blue ice packs, stamps, your many rivers. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip tiny sprigs of thyme. Here you are, a woman from the Midwest, pledging (new) allegiance.

7. Make a map of Post-it notes in shades of the rainbow.

Write down a list of locations you love, places you still want to visit, acts of kindness you’ve witnessed, questions you harbor about home, a recipe for a vegetable you hate, the address of your closest community garden, library, or body of water.

In a backyard, facing your family’s old peony bushes, watch the ants spill over pink petals. Touch a flower’s soft innards. The hose coils before you—water glistens at the lip. I pledge allegiance to a blade of grace—I mean, grass.

On and on, ants feast.

8. Who and what belongs in your creative lineage? In one corner of your home, create an altar. Collect items that remind you of each person, space, thing. Thank them.

9. End each day with a verb. Rest is also a verb.

10. monét cooper: 		To home-body . . .  to be at home in one’s own body. 
                                                Isn’t that the ultimate state?

11. Create a list.

a. A wearable object, a garment.
b. A familiar place.
c. I say, Garden. Write down the first noun that enters your mind.
d. Name a feeling you are curious about, or wish to challenge. If you don’t have a name for this feeling, describe it.
e. A worry.
f. A joy.
g. A beloved color.
h. A verb that evokes speed or power.
i. Another garment of choice.

12. Using your list from number 11, make the following benediction:

wearing [a], I face my [b].
[c] grows.
running out of words to name
my [d], I choose instead         to bow down
today, every day         to bless you,                [e]
dry grass that tries, still, to green. bless
you, [f], your roots [g] and supple,
you [h] from the trees. you put on a(n) [i].
eye the mirror. you are alive
enough.                       you invite spring.