Lea Wait

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.
A girl, afraid to be a woman.

If I stand very tall I am 62 inches high.
I have blue eyes streaked with gray
And tarnished brown hair
That gets in them.
Sometimes I wear it in a bun and am Emily Dickinson or Louisa Alcott
Or in pigtails, and play hopscotch in front of Mellon Institute.
Or just let it hang,
And run down Chapel Hill anyway.

I am a student, and a lady, and a child;
Almost a woman, but always a girl.

I love rare steak and burnt potato chips.

I am older than Neenie,
Younger than Lea;
I love the smell of Arpege and mud flats.
I drink tea with lemon and sugar with coffee.
Daffodils laugh, but blue-bells depress me.
Iím afraid of trolls.

I like raisins in oatmeal and in the sun.
I work best under pressure.

I like shiny fingernails and jazz, but
I hate Altmanís and mini-skirts.

I like small rooms lined with books, and braided rugs, and
Pillows, because I like to sit on the floor.

I like fountain pens and brown notebooks and blue ink and
I donít believe in god, but I donít tell anyone anymore
And my children will go to church,
Because I love Christmas.

I love pearls.
I like garnets better than rubies,
And topaz more than diamonds.
But someday I want a diamond
And a gold band

But not just now.

Someday I want a girl named Jeannie and a boy named Mike Ė
But theyíll have to wait.
Because I want to be a person first.

Subject to change.

I believe that women are more than equal, but keep quiet about it.
I know there are 435 members of the House of Representatives
But I donít understand why more of them arenít Negroes and women.

Rachel Carson and Margaret Chase Smith were my high school idols.
Now Iíd add (quietly) Jean Kerr.

Iím an anti-feminist.
I love to travel alone.

Iím crazy about noodles and tuna fish and pizza with pepperoni and Jello.
I hate clutter, unless itís books.

I love cozy slippers and lacy underwear and going barefoot in the mud.
I make spaghetti in a popcorn popper, and always add paprika.
I am in love with chipmunks, pigeons, and 4x6 envelopes.
I read Dickens and Ferlinghetti.

I love wind and rain and snowmen

And baroque music and Barbra Streisand, even if sheís trite.
And I donít like earrings or hair spray or soap operas and
I adore commercials.

I love fireplaces with real fires, and front porches with creaky swings, and noisy typewriters.

I like strawberry milkshakes and frosted lipsticks.
Iíd like to be cultured, but I love WABC and
I daydream at the symphony.

I love to get dressed up, but I donít waste time doing it.
I hate alarm clocks and television sets. But I couldnít live without them.

Iíd rather walk than ride. But Iíll drive anywhere.

Iím honest to a proudly self-conscious fault, and Iím
Corrupt to a deeper meaning.
I wish sex were legal Ė but I went through a phase of wishing human sacrifice were, too.

I donít want to grow up, but Iím scared to stay young.

I eat too much, sometimes, and talk too much, often, and
Wish I could sleep too much, always.

If the world were a stage Iíd feel more comfortable in it.

Iím a loner, but I love being lonely.
Iím a conformist, except when I think.
I have horrible nightmares, and wild daydreams.
And I couldnít live without either.

I spend too much money on velvet hair ribbons and funny cards and books of plays.
Hamlet and Antigone are my ideals, but
Creon and I are one.

I think too fast.
I hate greasepaint, but I love crowds.

I love Degas, but I donít think I like horses or ballet.
Iíve always wanted to be the first woman president, and a marine biologist, and a literary lioness,
And an archaeologist,
But Iím allergic to dust.

I donít want anyone to understand me,
But people think they do, and
Theyíre probably right.

If I were rich the first place Iíd go would be Scotland.
The second would be Stratford.
And the third would be Disneyland.

I need someone to need me, because then I need them, too.
Iím a deadly realist, but I pretend to be idealistic.
I used to think there was no such thing as love.
Now Iím not so sure.

I never want to go to the moon, but Iíd love to see penguins.
Iíve always felt that horses were incomplete zebras.

Iím funny.
But most of the time itís intentional

I get migraine heartaches.

I either love or hate October and March; I havenít decided yet.
I like men who know that women are people, too.
And I hate crew cuts and red hair.

Iím a drama major because there are only five of us.
I support the minority, but
If I were Jewish Iíd be conservative.
If I were a Democrat, Iíd be liberal.
Iím in favor of staying in Viet Nam,
But I hate war.

I may be in love, and it scares me.
But he doesnít.

I love to see the sun rise, but hate to get up in the morning.

Iím perennially frustrated because I canít know everything.
And Iím annually concerned about self.

My name is Ellie, and this is 1967.

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