Featured Poem II • September 2015

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Dorothy Before Oz

 

Jane Yolen

 
 

There’s a flatness in her eyes and smile from the prairie years, a shyness, too, as if she prefers animals to people. She knows twisters, they’re part of her life, but fear doesn’t show in her eyes. Neither does humor. She’s been cleaned up for the photograph, the dust of home, the grayness scrubbed, but it’s still in her stare. Oz is ahead, the colored lands, talking animals, men of metal, scarecrows, leading a troop against a witch. I see her returning home changed, becoming a missionary in Africa as odd in her mind as Oz, but reachable. Bones in her ears, pet monkeys, wearing dashikis. “Gone native,” Aunt Em writes, a bit of Kansas stuck between her teeth. Dorothy sends but two words back. “Finding home.”

 

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Jane YolenJane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is the author of over 350 published books, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? The books range from rhymed picture books and baby board books, through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, and up to novels and story collections for young adults and adults. She has won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Grand Master Award, and been named a Grand Master of sf/fantasy poetry by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates, and her Skylark Award—given by NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association)—set her good coat on fire.

About the origins of “Dorothy Before Oz,” she said, “I was in an antique store and saw an old photo of a girl who immediately made me think of Dorothy Gale—same period, her eyes with a far-away look to them, as if she was contemplating travel. The first draft of the poem simply poured out. I paid $2.50 for the photo and it was a grand investment. We poets grab our poetry starters from wherever we can find them.”

 

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