Look On My Works, Ye Mighty

Teachers, parents, siblings, mentors of every kind leave their mark upon us.  I was in the fifth grade at Isaac Newton Elementary school in Detroit when my teacher, Mrs. Chapman, had us memorize Ozymandias, a poem composed in 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Then we had to recite it to our classmates.

I walked to the front of the room and paused, a dramatic device storytellers employ to command the attention of their audience.  Actually, I was just trying not to throw up: it was my first public solo performance.  I was terrified, but it was also electrifying to be able to convey such a compelling story, such unforgettable imagery.   Not only did I not throw up, but I got an A.  And I never forgot that poem.

My mother used to recite poetry to us, like “Daffodils” by Wordsworth and “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.  Over the years I’ve shared Ozymandias and other gems (okay, sometimes I sing jingles from the TV commercials I watched as a kid), to a certain captive audience–my children.  Occasionally I recognize my own words reflected back to me from the mouths of my babes.  Sometimes to my chagrin, but most often to my surprise and delight.

My son Eli is home between teaching assignments…


…and tonight Bea returns from Stanford on spring break.  It will be so good for us all to be back together again.  My ritual, when the kids depart for school, is to tidy their rooms, change the sheets, and drop a tear or two as I make their rooms ready for them to come home to…and they are always grateful.

The last time Eli left I was tempted to hire a bulldozer…

…but it’s like spending a little quiet time with that absent child.

Last night, in a burst of inspired procrastination (he was tired of reorganizing his own room), Eli decided to surprise Bea by cleaning her room, and not just the sort of tidying I do, but a thorough reorganization, including the mountain of books stacked haphazardly in the corner, that pile of her things parked just inside the door, not to mention the surprise found in a teacup discovered under a pile of stuff on her desk.  It’s either a science experiment or a strange new life form.  It took Eli over five hours.  He found so many new ways and places to shelve books that they almost fit on her shelves now!

But nothing comes without a price tag.  In fact, after Eli was finished, everything had a tag on it.  Oh, yes.  He had made his mark.

I love this one…

But my absolute favorite touch was the greeting on the door.

I howled with laughter. “Oh, good,” said Eli. “I didn’t know if you’d get the reference.”  “Do I get the reference?” I asked, launching into a recitation of Ozymandias.  “How did you think of it?”  He said he remembered it from all the times I’d recited it.  Of course I  ran to find my book of Shelley…

When I opened it up in search of the poem, I saw that someone else had made her mark.  Upon the book…

…and maybe even upon me.

I believe those little things that we pass on from generation to generation, the poetry and the stories, whether silly or sad or sweet and heartfelt, will outlast the Mighty, their monuments to themselves, and, I hope, their wars.

Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Mrs. Chapman.  Thank you, son.  And welcome home, Bea!

All images and words (except for Mr. Shelley’s, of course)

c2013 Naomi Baltuck



  1. What a delightful story. Eli is handsome and tidy and kind, and a sense of humour – killer combination. Every girl should be lucky enough to have such a brother, or partner. I hope Bea appreciates it. Alison

    1. Thank you, Alison. I’m sure she does–they are best friends.

  2. scillagrace says:

    The thing about a reflection is that it catches you being…you. Your mother, yourself, your children – what prisms we are to our own light. Your family certainly shines like the twinkling in a pair of clever eyes! 😉

    1. Dear Scilla,
      Thanks so much for your sweet response. It must be the same with every family–as in that wonderful photo you shared of of Team Galasso at the fundraiser.

  3. Carol says:

    How wonderful for you to have your whole family together for a while.

    1. Dear Carol,
      It is wonderful indeed. Flying by so fast, but we are packing in so much. Saturday the kids made pancakes, we played board games, went for a walk in our nearby woods, and saw a great play. Yesterday Bea and I did some serious editing and both read a chapter at a coffeehouse meeting of writers, she had a bunch of her writer friends over for a party, and we sneaked a visit with Grandma in. Today we are having lunch at Alki Beach with our dear friends Sharon and Pat (our Artistic One and The Queen Mum!)
      I have been catching up on my reading your blog, and so enjoyed getting to tag along on your cruise!

  4. J.D. Gallagher says:

    Ozymandias is one of favourite poems. Great post.

    1. Thank you, JD. I have always loved that poem too.

  5. raptekar says:

    I especially like the pic of you with your Mom. Scouts’ honor!

    1. Thanks, Richard! I don’t know how she found the time to lead a troop of Girl Scouts with seven kids at home! She was a Den Mother too!

    1. Thanks so much for the pingback! I visited your blog, and enjoyed your interpretation of the Weekly Photo Challenge.

  6. Well, of course, it’s you storytellers who ensure immortality to the heroes of old and through the ages! Your family tradition lives on, I see and how it must please you Naomi. Bless you all over Spring break. 🙂

    1. Dear Meredith,
      So well said! I had such a lift last week when Eli came and told St. Patrick’s Day stories with me at the Black Diamond library. So fun to see the torch passed along.
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It is always good to hear form you–I hope you are well.

      1. A two-hander for St. Paddy’s Day – how terrific. I love imagining your performances – makes me smile. 🙂

  7. I needed a story before bed tonight and this is just perfect. My daughter and friends are driving down the coast in the dark to meet friends from LA. But they stopes in for dinner on the way. No matter what they remember us what we say and what we do !

    1. Hi Carol,
      Last night a bunch of Bea’s writer friends came over–perfect timing because I had just made lasagna the night before and had something good to feed them. It is sweet to know you are the home your little pigeon can always come back to while coming and going and living her life. Wishing your daughter and her friends a safe trip!

  8. Red Hen says:

    Oh, I just love the “why do I own this bag”! Funny and perfectly true. A collection of books reflects who we are better than anything else I think. And passing on the love of words is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. Great pics, lovely account, beautifully told.

    1. Thank you! I had to laugh when I saw Eli’s “Why do I own this?” sign. Most everything I have could probably fit into that bag!
      But books are cherished and respected in our household–worthy heirlooms!

  9. What goes around comes around, I suppose. Lovely story and photos, so nice you’ll have everyone home together!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. We are having a wonderful week!

  10. Naomi says:

    At first, when you said Eli was going to tidy his sister’s room, I was worried it was going to end badly. But, not at all! What a helpful, creative son! This story made me wonder what my kids will leave behind in their own rooms someday, when they fly the coup. What will become their treasures?

    1. Dear Naomi,
      I have always let each kid be master of his or her domain, but once in awhile, when they got overwhelmed with school and the room got out of control (or we had house guests coming to stay), I would step in and they were always grateful. So Eli is carrying on a family tradition. The other family tradition is that, when one helps to clean, one has the liberty to leave notes or help oneself to any chocolate left lying about. And the kids pass a rubber chicken back and forth, trying to surprise one another as soon as the other’s guard is let down. Last year Bea was on a school backpacking trip in California, and the first night she unpacked to discover she had carried a rubber chicken up the mountain. But the class named it and declared it their mascot, so Eli was forgiven! Eli is still waiting for the chicken to resurface in his room somewhere.

      1. Naomi says:

        Sounds like fun! I hope my children remain close over the years, as well.

  11. Well, that certainly came full circle 🙂 Welcome home to your kids 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! It is really great to have them home. We are making the most of it.

  12. Arlene says:

    I love these stories of your family and especially how creative your children are. (No doubt passed down from their parents). Eli’s students must love him – funny, smart and I’m sure many of them are crushing on those blue eyes! 🙂

    I’m going to have to see if I can grab Shelly’s book of poems from the library. Can’t remember reading this specific one, but it will be fun to go through it! Thanks for sharing!!!!

    1. Dear Arlene,
      Thanks so much for your sweet response. Eli’s students are very appreciative. I hope you like Shelley. Another poet I learned to love through my mom is Rupert Brooke. One day I will have to write about him. Best of luck with the conference!

  13. Mary Brugh says:

    Lovely and fun! Ah, the gift of a new poem, complete with images. Happy Spring Break!

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and your generous response. We are making the most of our time. The kids and I are off to see Sharon and Pat today. I imagine springtime is in full swing in Jonesborough.
      Have a lovely spring!

  14. Your family is delightful. Eli, what a guy, son and brother. Makes me smile that he would reorganize his sister’s room so thoroughly.
    Even when you’re not writing about travel, your photo journal is outstanding.

    1. Dear Tess,
      Thanks so much. That is very good to hear. I have read that one should focus on one subject so readers know what to expect, but I do tend to bounce all over the place with this blog. Maybe I can just say that people who come visit can expect to find stories on all subjects in many forms.
      Best wishes!

    1. Hi Nola,
      Thanks so much for the pingback. I really enjoyed your take on the theme “Reflections.”

    1. HI Chris,
      Thanks for the pingback. I thought the photo you chose for this theme was perfect.

  15. Absolutely delightful

    1. Thank you, Cathryn! I hope that springtime is coming to your neck of the woods, although I so enjoyed your winter photos.

  16. diannegray says:

    What a beautiful story (does Eli want to clean my house?) He sounds (and looks like) an absolute gem!

    My mother use to recite poetry to me and I also did for my children. It’s amazing how we can remember it line for line as we grow older (but I can never remember my PIN numbers for my credit cards) 😀

    1. Dear Dianne,
      The mood really has to strike Eli before he’ll undertake a project of that scale–there has to be an even more daunting one that he would like to put off (such as organizing his own room). But he is gem, and it is a joy to have both kids home at the same time

      I love that you have made the sharing of poetry a part of the fabric of your family life. And you are so right about memorizing poetry vs. PIN numbers. You made me laugh out loud with that one. Yesterday I forgot the password to take care of some online business and had to start over with a new password. I got distracted, went to take care of it this morning, and I have already forgotten the password I reset last night! But I could still recite Ozymandias for you, line by line!

      1. diannegray says:

        LOL – SO true! We need to make poetry out of our passwords so we can remember them 😀

  17. Jo Bryant says:

    this post lightened my day…thank you for that

    1. Hi Jo,
      Thanks for brightening my day too!

  18. Oh Naomi, I did laugh at the gross “science” find — ha, ha!. It reminded me of one of the finds in my daughter’s bedroom when she was about 14, which was an ancient cup of milky coffee growing about half an inch of greenish-grey furry mould on its surface. There were other gross finds in amongst the clothes and rubbish strewn across the floor, the worst being some dead mice the cat had brought in. I don’t think her brother would ever have thought of tidying that room for her.

    Eli has the most amazing blue eyes, but don’t let on that a woman old enough to be his mum thinks he’s drop-dead handsome. Sh-sh-sh.

    I really enjoyed that post. It was great fun 🙂

    1. Dear Sarah,
      Your comment made me laugh (and also cringe at thought of your cat’s little hoard hidden among your daughter’s things!

      Thanks for your sweet comments about Eli–every once in a while I will see him through fresh eyes and think, “Who’s that movie star on my couch?” I do love that photo.

    1. Thanks so much for the pingback. I love your series of reflections!

  19. 4amWriter says:

    Goodness, I had to memorize Ozymandius in middle school too! Thanks for the flashback. 🙂

    1. Hi Kate,
      It must have been a standard favorite! Thanks for stopping by.

  20. Naomi, this may be one of my favorite posts (that and the one about the cups stuck together). Your children are grand!

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Thank you for the visit, and for sharing your generous response. I read your wonderful ‘About’ page today. I love Cicero’s quote about a library and a garden. The only thing I would add to that list is ‘children.’

  21. How awesome! Love the “just socks” tag. : )

    1. Hi Britt,
      I love that one too. It still cracks me up every time I enter the room–Bea has left everything in place, except the photo of Eli as Ozymandia, with his half sunk visage, which she said was just too strange, even for her!

  22. Time together = precious! Love this, Naomi!

    1. Dear Paula,
      Precious indeed! We are making the most of every minute. Thanks so much for checking in and sharing your sweet response. As always, you bring a smile to my face.

  23. tchistorygal says:

    Great story, Naomi. Mom used to recite poetry, mostly because Grandpa asked her to. I remember learning scripture, and maybe a couple of poems, but nothing elaborate. Your traditions are heartwarming. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Marsha. So good to hear from you. I think this story hearkens back to a day when people used to entertain each other in the good parlor. Nowadays we only have to press a button or two, and anything we need pops up on the screen of our smart phone or laptop.

      1. tchistorygal says:

        So true. Your family sounds like they can easily weather any storm without a computer or a phone! 🙂

  24. elisa ruland says:

    Beautiful, wonderful, funny, insightful post! Loved every minute.
    P.S. Does Eli do spice drawers? 😉

    1. Ha! I’m wishing he did closets, because I have a few that would rival Flibber McGee and Molly’s. Thanks so much for the visit, and for making me smile.

  25. viveka says:

    Eli, is one handsome young man – and with a great humor too. Enjoyed this post very much – I suppose it has some cons with having children … but the pluses are far greater.
    Wish you a fantastic time togeter – and Eli can come and tag my closet any day *smile

    1. Thank you! The cons don’t even register on my Mom-meter, and Thom and the kids are the best things that ever happened to me. It has been a great visit, and I can hardly believe it is almost over now. But there will be adventures this summer to look forward to, and company coming to visit, and a big writing project to work on. And if that isn’t enough, Eli has been after me to let him clean out my closet, and I have half a mind to let him. That would be turning over a new page in family history!

      1. viveka says:

        You and your family … always have some adventure going on – and you do things together, which is FAB – especially now when they have left home and got their own lives. You have a strong bond. Not all families that are that blessed, but I would say it’s down to the parents, the bond is created during the upbringing – and if they feel they have the support and the freedom under responsibility, they will always love to go back home.

      2. I sure hope so. My mom let me make my own decisions and my own mistakes, didn’t judge me, and I knew there was always a safe place to come home to. I have tried to do the same for my children. My mom also said, “Choose your battles carefully.” We don’t have battles in this house and didn’t need to when the kids were little either, because they have always had sweet temperaments and because we anticipate situations, talk about them, and work them out before they get to that point.
        We are very fortunate, but also very careful. In our household, people are more important than things, and we understand the power of words to heal or to harm. We have all done all that we could to make our home feel safe, and everyone in this house knows he or she is respected and loved above all else. We compromise, take turns giving and taking, respect each others’ choices, give each other space, and, thank goodness, we share many interests and enjoy each others’ company. It is not something I take for granted. I thank my lucky stars every single day!

      3. viveka says:

        I think it’s important the youth can have freedom under responsibility, but also that they are aware of the consequences for their choices and actions – that they have been informed.
        I had a very liberal youth upbringing and I was very well informed what would and what could happens.
        I also had a fantastic support by mom – if things did go wrong – and there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed in some way.
        I can see that you are the same as my mom … in your thinking. Don’t have any children, but I would raise them just like mom did with me.

  26. pattisj says:

    Bulldozer! It sounds like he had a lot of fun organizing Bea’s room. I hope she felt the same way. Maybe that was his way of spending some time with her…

    1. Hi Patti,
      Bea was very grateful to her brother. I think you’re right–he was very glad to see her, and it is like spending time with someone far away, and also the anticipation of their surprise and gratitude. They are so lucky to have each other!
      Thank you so much for the visit! It is always good to hear from you.

  27. Madhu says:

    Ha ha, Eli is a model brother! 🙂 Enjoyed this very much NAomi. I did a post drawing parallels between Ozymandias and Ramesse II, but it wasn’t half as fun or heartwarming 🙂

  28. Thank you, Madhu. You are very kind. I really enjoyed your approach to the poem and history in that post, and the photographs were fantastic. There are so many ways to tell a story!

  29. reocochran says:

    My mother also used to quote the Highwayman poem, along with a variety of other ones they were required to memorize. I know them when I hear them, but am not very good at memorization! I like that you have your son in here. He is a nice looking man and seems to have a big heart and loves learning, too. (Typical young person, though, to leave a mess for their mother to clean up! I used to just take the dirty dishes and clothes out of their rooms so no vermin or bugs would invade… No “made” bed ready for them to just sink into! I guess I was kind of mean!) Smiles, Robin

  30. reocochran says:

    I think that it is a shame that we are no longer required to memorize poetry. This was a great post, added this to my first comment… I appreciated your comment on my post, too, Naomi! Smiles, Robin

  31. Jamie Dedes says:

    Cute! Yes we have our words thrown back at us. LOL! Shows they’ve been listening.

    What a nice brother. Cleaning her room. No sibling rivalry there, eh?

    1. Hi Jamie,
      They are incredibly supportive of each other–editing each other’s papers and stories, buoying each other up, even cleaning a sibling’s room. Not too far down on my mommy wish list for my kids, after happy and healthy, I would have them be best friends. There are only two of them, but I know they will look after each other, and it is a comfort to me.

  32. Stephen Page says:

    Love the Shelley poem.

    1. I’ve always loved that poem. Thanks so much for the visit!

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