Ellie: An Inventory of Being
Lea when she was Ellie
When I was a junior at Chatham College (now university) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I wrote a poem that won first prize in a national competition for college students and was published in Story: The Yearbook of Discovery Ė 1968, edited by Whit and Hallie Burnett. Marianne Moore, who judged the poetry, wrote of me, ďShe is uninhibited, curious, retentive, and takes trouble.Ē Whit Burnett added, ďWhat better might be said of a worker in the arts!Ē
I was thrilled.
I was even more thrilled in 2005 to discover my poem had been used in creative writing classes throughout the world for years Ė often with a note that no one knew who ďEleanor WaitĒ was, or what had happened to her. Ironically, the answer is in the poem. After college I changed my name to ďLea Wait.Ē
Since then Iíve heard from people in the United States, Canada, and Asia whoíve written to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my poem and writing their own versions of it. Many young poets tell me they identify with the girl in the poem. One fourteen year old girl asked if I was still scared of love, because she was, too. One couple shared that theyíd exchanged ďEllie PoemsĒ on their first date ... and went on to get married and read a joint ďEllie PoemĒ at their wedding.
In 2008 I was honored when Chatham University awarded me their Cornerstone Award for lifetime achievement in literature, and I read part of the poem in my acceptance speech, bringing the poem back to where it started, on that college campus, on a Saturday night.
With memories of the Ellie Wait who was once 20 years old, here is that poem.
Ellie: An Inventory of Being
I am Ellie.
I am twenty years old.
I am a student, but never a co-ed.
If I stand very tall I am 62 inches high.
I am a student, and a lady, and a child;
I love rare steak and burnt potato chips.
I am older than Neenie,
I like raisins in oatmeal and in the sun.
I like shiny fingernails and jazz, but
I like small rooms lined with books, and braided rugs, and
I like fountain pens and brown notebooks and blue ink and
I love pearls.
But not just now.
Someday I want a girl named Jeannie and a boy named Mike Ė
Subject to change.
I believe that women are more than equal, but keep quiet about it.
Rachel Carson and Margaret Chase Smith were my high school idols.
Iím an anti-feminist.
Iím crazy about noodles and tuna fish and pizza with pepperoni and Jello.
I love cozy slippers and lacy underwear and going barefoot in the mud.
I love wind and rain and snowmen
And baroque music and Barbra Streisand, even if sheís trite.
I love fireplaces with real fires, and front porches with creaky swings, and noisy typewriters.
I like strawberry milkshakes and frosted lipsticks.
I love to get dressed up, but I donít waste time doing it.
Iíd rather walk than ride. But Iíll drive anywhere.
Iím honest to a proudly self-conscious fault, and Iím
I donít want to grow up, but Iím scared to stay young.
I eat too much, sometimes, and talk too much, often, and
If the world were a stage Iíd feel more comfortable in it.
Iím a loner, but I love being lonely.
I spend too much money on velvet hair ribbons and funny cards and books of plays.
I think too fast.
I love Degas, but I donít think I like horses or ballet.
I donít want anyone to understand me,
If I were rich the first place Iíd go would be Scotland.
I need someone to need me, because then I need them, too.
I never want to go to the moon, but Iíd love to see penguins.
I get migraine heartaches.
I either love or hate October and March; I havenít decided yet.
Iím a drama major because there are only five of us.
I may be in love, and it scares me.
I love to see the sun rise, but hate to get up in the morning.
Iím perennially frustrated because I canít know everything.
My name is Ellie, and this is 1967.
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