On commas, this published poet has evolved

Mike Christopherson
My family didn't just stick the clipping in the Crookston Daily Times featuring me on the refrigerator with a magnet, they framed it.

It's the lack of commas that still gives me pause today, around 40 years after I authored as a fourth grader my poetic opus, "Morning" as part of a "Minnesota Writers in the Schools" initiative. My poem was selected along with others written by kids my age and up to high school and they were published in a book entitled "A Box of Night Mirrors."

Trippy, right? A box of night mirrors. A person could lay in bed for hours in the dark trying to envision just what that would look like, or how the “Minnesota Writers in the Schools" people way back in 1979 conjured up that title for the book.

Some of us were invited to St. Paul's Landmark Center to read our poems on stage, and I don't think I'm suffering from delusions of grandeur when I recall that my witticisms on what a typical morning was like in our house brought the house down.

I've long said that when it comes to communicating via the written word, there are comma-lovers and comma-haters. I've long pitched my tent in the former camp, but if you read "Morning," you’d conclude that the 9-year-old mini-me despised commas:

As I woke up I saw an orange haze in the sky.

Like orange juice spilling on the kitchen table.

As I walked in front of the mirror my hair looked terrible it just sat there sticking up. I couldn't do anything with it.

It looked like grass ten feet high and still growing.

As I went to wake up my sister she looked into the mirror and fainted, she fell like she was a tree falling, but it was just the old routine.

One could say I rallied at the end by showing some comma love, but if we're going to be technical here, a semi-colon after "fainted" is the appropriate punctuation.

I hadn't seen that 120-page paperback book for decades, with its intriguing cover art that apparently was the illustrator's best stab at what a collection of night mirrors might look like. Was it in a box somewhere? I had no idea. Then in passing during a recent day at the lake, I sarcastically bragged about my published-poet status, and around 10 seconds later my dad strolled through the sliding-glass door, book in hand.

Now it sits on our book shelves at home.

There are some gems in its pages, some real imagination on display. I get the feeling a lot of kids struggled – me, possibly? – with settling on a topic, so they were told by their teachers to write about their families. There could be an entire chapter dedicated to poems about moms. "She's the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae," one kid wrote. I’m not exactly sure what he’s getting at there. There are many poems about pets, too, and it seems as though a lot of the young authors lived dream childhoods that included horses.

Some poems, though, I have to question the effort. A seventh grader in the Twin Cities area wrote:

a boat in the waves

at the mercy of the sea

some dust in the air

Seriously, Greg, that's all you've got?

But a sixth-grader from Moorhead nailed cynical, partisan politics even way back then, with a wordsmith's touch:

Millioncongressman are against every superconcrete idea.

They think funkycondos are really keen. They unitedisturb us. They think they are endeavorsmart.

They kill us with educatedlove. They butchercrash everything. They are so negative they unitedisturb us.

Tom still in the vicinity?We should grab a beer and vent.

I Googled the phrase "a box of night mirrors" just to see if it was an actual thing, you know? But it's not; it's just the unique title of this particular book from a long ago chapter in my life.

But one thing that did come up in the search was a link to Amazon, where a lone used copy is for sale, for a whopping $49. The seller is  "Shaking the Tree," who offer an "eclectic inventory of new and used books, rare, out of print, and signed editions; fiction, nonfiction, art, photography, cooking, technology and textbooks."

And then there are these words on their "About Us" link: "We Are Shaking The Tree, a band of time travelers fished from the cosmos, on a mission to expand literacy and protect the planet by rehoming books around the globe. We process orders with minimal paperwork and re-purpose packing material as much as possible: save books, save trees, save the planet."

I can dig that. I don’t think I’d pay 49 bucks for the book, but Isure dig where they’re coming from.

After many years in hiding, "A Box of Night Mirrors" now has a prominent perch in our living room.