I tell her a story
she already knows
The relaxing warmth of smoldering coals; one person speaks, the
other listens to a favorite tale repeated. We know that storytelling
began long, long ago. In ancient times, people painted stories on
rock walls and animal hides. Perhaps the first story was told to
a child wrapped in rabbit skins who sat with her family near a
flickering fire in a gloomy cave.
For millennia, stories have been told as a means of preserving
a people’s history and teaching children how to survive. Increasingly
through the ages, oft-repeated tales have conveyed diverse populations’
cumulative wisdom and knowledge. Storytellers have enthralled their
audiences with myths, legends, fairy tales, fables, ghost tales,
oral histories, and epic adventures. Such stories have been told,
retold, and passed down from generation to generation. So it is
even today. Stories reflect our values and aspirations, our fears
and dreams. Telling them is a uniquely human activity, and modern
storytelling is big business. Where would movies, music, news media,
the law, politics, and various other enterprises be without it?
Rick Tarquinio invites me to enter a universal and timeless familial
scene where stories are told the old-fashioned way. Though it could
be in any season, his haiku evokes a sense of cozy contentment.
Enjoying the poem’s cadence, I note that the last two lines
suggest the repeating rhythms of children’s picture books.
The event in this haiku, as I readily imagine it, represents the
cherished oral tradition between elder and child. The “glowing
embers” that imply late evening also reflect the pleasure
of both speaker and listener as the poet retells this particular story,
probably at the child’s request. I can easily replace Tarquinio’s
scene with one from my own childhood or my daughter’s early
“One morning, Mama Bear cooked a pot of grits for their
“Daddy, not grits! She cooked porridge!”
Children seem never to tire of their favorite stories. Before
drifting into sleep, they are comforted by hearing a trusted adult tell
a familiar one, exactly as they heard it the first time, be it a Grimm
Brothers tale or the colorful account of Great Grandma’s victory garden
in World War II. The accustomed routine, the willing repetition,
and the teller’s soothing voice reinforce feelings of safety
and cement the bond of love between adult and child.
This reader finds comfort in Tarquinio’s “glowing embers.” Whether
the poem takes place near the hearth or beside a campfire, I am allowed
a glimpse of intimacy and warmth, perhaps not so different from
that found in the corner of a certain cave thousands of years ago.