Then-3-year-old Gabi Alvarado prepares to ride her bike in the back of her old Pennsylvania house. According to Alvarado, she and her family moved just a year later. (Photo used by permission of Alvarado)

WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES: Home is where the heart is

I’ve been applying to colleges, which is a little difficult considering I’m not sure where I want to be yet.

However, I’ve always wanted to return to the East Coast. I was born in Media, Pennsylvania, which is outside Philadelphia. My parents and I lived there until I was 4; we then moved to North Carolina and lived there for about three months, then to Maryland for a year.

I’ve always wanted to go back.

Children can make good friends incredibly fast – I was no different. I still have the numbers of (but don’t contact often) two girls with whom I grew up when I lived in Upper Darby, a neighborhood in Philadelphia. I remember different friends I had in every place we lived, and I remember missing them terribly every time we moved away.

I don’t know why or how my parents and I ended up driving past our Upper Darby house (about a decade ago), but I do remember that we couldn’t go inside. We were renting it out, and we hadn’t let the current renters know we were coming. I remember that tearing feeling as we drove away. I was crying uncontrollably because I wanted to go in, but we couldn’t.

I remember the park by our house. My dad and I would walk there, and we’d count the birds’ blue and white eggshells in the row of wooden posts along the park’s path.

I remember dreaming. I dreamt that there was a red car – similar to the one we used to own – stuck in our basement, which had stairs leading up to a door in our kitchen. My dad and I tried to push the car up the stairs.

I dreamt about going to a mall in Philadelphia with my parents and finding a door that led to my attic in our old house. I lost my parents in the mall and explored my attic for hours.

When I got to Country Day, I was in third grade. I’d gone to different schools for pre-K, kindergarten, first grade and second grade – and most of those schools were in different parts of the country. So I thought I would move away soon. I thought Country Day was just another one-year stop – another school where I would make good friends and eventually leave them, like I did everywhere else.

So for the first time, I didn’t make friends. I stayed closed off. I was quiet and retracted in my classes and on the playground, and after school I went immediately to my mother’s classroom in the high school every day. But I was wrong – we stayed.

I’ve always wondered what my life would be like had I grown up in Upper Darby, had we never moved. I miss the snow, the humidity, the cities, my friends – home. That’s why I want to go back.

· · ·

At the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop this summer, I took a genre session on different poetry forms. We talked about the pantoum, a Malayan form of poetry that’s been adapted for French and English poetry.

After I left Kenyon, I started doing research on different forms of poetry I could write. One was the triolet, a French form of poetry consisting of eight lines with a rhyme scheme and the first line repeated in the fourth and seventh ones.

I’ve also been experimenting with villanelles. The villanelle is an Italian form that repeats the first and third lines of the first stanza alternately as the final lines of each proceeding stanza. The poem here is a villanelle. Because of that repetition, villanelles are typically about obsessions.

So I’ve written a series of villanelles about different obsessions. This one is about Philadelphia.


She is attracted to my eyes,

three thousand miles away, an eastbound melody:

home is a luminous Exxon sign.

Snowflakes land on my face, falling to never rise.

Irritating so I wipe them off, set them free;

she is attracted to my eyes.

As I pass the CVS, faint honks and muffled cries.

Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and coffee.

home is a luminous Exxon sign.

At twilight, among thousands of fireflies,

the sporadic blinking means they, too, feel as I feel.

She is attracted to my eyes.

Two children running through the incline

of snow without feeling in their feet.

home is a luminous Exxon sign.

On the surface of a pond, two geese fly,

as away the snow flies on a breeze;

she is attracted to my eyes.

home is a luminous Exxon sign.

—By Gabi Alvarado

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