Jane (From Primer Days) Thinking about Events in Staten Island, December 2014

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Jane (From Primer Days) Thinking about Events in Staten Island, December 2014

Hi. I’m Jane as in Dick-and.
And I’m a wreck.

Even though the curbs of my world are perfectly
squared off and all my streets have just the right
amount of shade.

This is because the trees here manage always
to maintain
the optimal height for a nice new subdivision–not too tall but also not
too small–sort of like
Goldilock’s porridge, only
with leaves.

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Sometimes, a cat scrambles up one–such fun–
and Mother, who wears high heels
with her apron, calls
the fire department or, if the firemen can’t come,
the police.

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The police, who wear blue jackets with yellow
buttons, always have time
for cats, and if you ever somehow stray
in your play, hopscotch
a square too far,
they walk you back
below those just-right trees,
sometimes touching your hand
but never more than–

Unless you are lost with your baby sister,
in which case, the policeman carries her and showing,
just over the crook
of his dark blue arm, are ruffles.

Even with the ruffles, it’s a world
that’s flat–
pretend pressed onto
a pre-Columbus
page–we, its only
natives.

Yes, I know, some people leaf through
my old world and think it was not
pretend,
because our pages showed stuff like
red balls that are real enough–
the red balls that only Dick tossed, caught, lost–
(Me, I never got to toss
a Dick-lost ball.)

There was also our hard cover,
yellow and blue, just like
our hair/eyes, the policeman’s
buttons,
sky.

But oh, you’ve got to know–
we were pressed
so flat in here–I’ve made myself
as flat as they come
and believe me–that is not a kind of flatness
that comes just from holding
my breath.

Speaking of which–breath, I mean.
You know, breathing–

I mean, here I am speaking–speaking
of which–
and yet I can’t, you know,
breathe.

Because when you are pressed flat, see,
that’s what happens.

*********************************

Here’s a drafty poem of sorts for Shay/Fireblossom’s prompt on With Real Toads so write a “mash-up” poem putting some character/ historic figure in an unusual context. I had a hard time thinking of what to write; my mind has been very taken up with the recent events in New York City concerning the death of Eric Garner, and I could not really think of anything else to write about.  That said, I really do not want to seem flippant about these very serious events.  I sincerely hope this doesn’t come across that way. The illustrations are mine, in pencil–so sorry that the erasures show!   

Process Note–Primer here is pronounced “primmer” and is a word for a primary level text-book.  For those who don’t know or remember, the Dick and Jane books were primer reading books, popular in the 50’s and 60’s.  

For those of you who are outside the U.S., or haven’t been following the Garner case within the U.S., here’s a timeline of events around the case, with links to articles–timeline

Explore posts in the same categories: children's illustration, drawings, New York City, news, poetry, Uncategorized

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21 Comments on “Jane (From Primer Days) Thinking about Events in Staten Island, December 2014”


  1. What comes across to me here is the divide between the past and now, and also between the light and dark. So amazing what’s happening… Hopefully a beginning of a change.. Not at all flippant but with just the innocence of a child’s voice.

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    Since I was raised on Dick and Jane(and Spot, the obligatory dog) and remember so well the hopeful but artificial superficiality of the time/characters, of the sanitized world children were shown, this seems very appropriate as a study in contrasts, though little under the veneer may really have changed, only us. I don’t find the tone flippant at all, and the conclusion of the poem is effective and real without being exploitive or patronizing. I think we as a country are being squeezed flat as Jane by so many things—great details you have worked with here, too, k–esp. Mom in her apron, beauty-shop hair and high heels, and the ruffle.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. Those books were so odd. My mother was a reading teacher so we had a copy or so around the house long after they were taken off the shelves. People would like to think that world was real and certainly there were some real aspects for some! Thanks as always for reading and thoughtful comment. K .

      >

  3. mhwarren Says:

    I learned on Dick and Jane too (and baby Sally) while living in a housing project which was quite a different world from theirs. I was actually fascinated by their perfect world. The juxtaposition between that flat world and the tragedy in NY was very effective here. Ironic (and horrifying in one) that in both worlds the protagonist can’t breathe.

  4. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    Even on my side of the world, I can appreciate the satire. (Our primers were Carol and Roy) We have out fair share of police bungles and seldom does a day go by when a policeman is not implicated in a crime. Sad times indeed.


  5. I remember Dick and Jane and for a time, as a young married, I lived that flat existence. I especially love the tree “sort of like Goldilocks porridge, only with leaves.” That is perfect!

  6. lolamouse Says:

    I remember the Dick and Jane stories well! I satirized them myself as a junior high schooler! Your poem is a wonderful contrast of that sanitized world with our own chaotic mess. Nice job.

  7. claudia Says:

    oh heck… didn’t hear about that before but followed the link to read the article… that is just terrible what happened to him…
    enjoyed your illustrations k.
    have a great saturday

  8. Mama Zen Says:

    I think this is brilliant. It says so much without coming right out and saying it. Marvelous commentary on an idealized past blonde and blue-eyed past that never breathed, never existed.

  9. Susan Says:

    Well done! a kind of Bluest Eye narrative, showing the backstage illusions. None of us can breathe, but some can’t breathe more than others.


  10. I read those, too and I think you brought to life a fine balance with this…I enjoy your illustrations, K.

  11. coalblack Says:

    I can’t believe a man lost his life for selling loosies. The police seem upset that it isn’t being stressed that Garner broke the law. What’s next, nightsticks used on jaywalkers? On top of that, there’s NO punishment. Unbelievable.

    On a lighter note, one of the pleasures of coming here, is knowing that, along with the poem, there will be artwork, often with elephants!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes, it is pretty crazy. I don’t think, in fact, that the guy was selling “loosies” when they tried to arrest him. He had just broken up a fight. I think he did sell the loosies sometimes, but not from that location and he insisted he hadn’t been selling anything — (Not that I think would be any justification, but it’s just useful to note.) Also, I don’t think he was particularly resisting arrest. He is gesturing the whole time he is talking and he is telling the police that he doesn’t want them to touch him, but he isn’t fighting with them or shoving them, at least not until they grab him and put him in the choke hold.

      I don’t have a TV so have no idea what that kind of coverage is, but I have looked at the videos of course and read the paper. It is just terribly sad.

      Thanks re comment. I haven’t been drawing as much as I like but am hoping to get a little more focused. k.

      On Sun, Dec 7, 2014 at 7:22 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:

      >

  12. Polly Says:

    I love your sketches, K. And the lines ‘Even with the ruffles, it’s a world / that’s flat–’ 🙂

  13. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) Says:

    It’s anything but flippant! Even though I do know a little about the recent cases in the US, I can’t relate those scenarios to the poem — but I can see it as feminist commentary. (A friend who has spent a lot of time in the USA speaks of ‘Barbie Doll women’: a similar kind of pretence.) I love the drawings, and I think the erasures are perfect for a child’s sketches.

  14. Woonie Says:

    I wish Eric had been able to run ~~ like Dick, like Jane.

  15. grapeling Says:

    only flip in the sense of insouciant. or as in, ‘i don’t give a flip about what ‘they’ think anymore – here’s what I see, and I’m saying it’.

    i worry about this country, that so much hate still exists just because the outer 1/2 millimeter of a person’s skin contains more pigment than another’s. ~

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes–one thinks of the torture too, of course, and there’s a feeling that it might not have been approached in the same way if the detainees were Northern European, for example. The racial issues here make one think a great deal about how people get on all kinds of tracks from the start. So sad and so difficult. Thanks for your kind comments. k.


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