Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 19, 2013

Terry Wooten: One poem leads to another — and friendship

Local columnist

---- — I was watching my own kids ride a miniature tilt-a-whirl, when I heard this old man yell, “MIMI SIT DOWN!” I looked around to see who Mimi was, and there was this little carney girl slouched on a plastic chair on a merry-go-round. Every now and then she would stand up and try to keep her balance. She seemed quite neglected and bored.

The next morning I got up and wrote Mimi in five minutes. That doesn’t happen very often.

Every poem has a story behind it.

Sometimes a poem can lead to another poem, or in the case of Mimi, also a friendship.

I first met Kate Lauren Heinrich when she was in fifth grade. She’d turned my Mimi poem into a Motown song in anticipation of my visit to her elementary school in Saginaw Township. While I was there, she performed it for me.

The next summer, Kate and her mother visited my Stone Circle.

Kate wanted to be a writer like me. She didn’t make it. She was only in this world until seventh grade, but her short life was a magical time, until the end.

Kate Lauren Heinrich was not a neglected little girl like Mimi. She just had some really bad luck.

On this upcoming Memorial Day weekend her family and friends will be remembering “Kate the Great,” as they call her.

When I work in Saginaw I sometimes visit Kate’s grave in Roselawn Memorial Gardens. She would now be 27.

I often visit cemeteries when I’m on the road. They’re quiet and peaceful places away from the pedestrian unfriendly environment in which most modern hotels are situated.

I shy away from graveyards on Memorial Day weekends. I’m more comfortable alone with the muse.

During a week-long residency in Saginaw, I hunted up Michigan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery.

I wrote a poem about the pilgrimage, and was later invited to be the after-dinner speaker after a historical marker unveiling on the front lawn of Roethke’s childhood home at 1805 Gratiot.

It’s now a museum.

A year later I spoke in the backyard of the Roethke house. During the presentation,

I recited “Mimi,” “For Kate,” my Roethke poem and three of Ted’s. Kate’s mother was in the audience.

This coming Saturday on the full moon will be Roethke’s 105th birthday.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 29 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at



Mimi rides the merry-go-round

night after night

bored with the smiling horses.

She sits in a chair

with her winter coat on

in early summer.

Mimi’s not too clean.

Her hair hangs in wind braids

like tangled dreams.

And she’s tired

and wants to go home,

wherever that is,

or the carnival’s heading.

But her mama’s too busy

selling tickets,

and her grandpa’s too busy

giving rides and smoking his pipe.

So Mimi rides the merry-go-round

night after night

bored with the smiling horses.


For Kate

Mrs. Murphy exited to the office,

trusting her class

for just a minute.

A fair, willowish, fifth-grade girl

with long, bouncing, blond hair

pranced to the front of the class

with four doo-wopping friends.

Kate had memorized my Mimi poem

without her teacher knowing.

She turned it into a Motown song,

and practiced all week

in front of her mirror

and at a friend’s house.

The go-go girl sang my lines,

swiveling her hands and hips

like a wobbling top.

Her backup chorus

shuffled to-and-fro

crooning, “Mime, Mimi, Mimi.”

Mrs. Murphy returned in the middle

of a standing ovation.


Kate took my poem to a higher level.

Almost two years down the road

I was in a hotel room with a view

of an intersection

on a rainy January day.

My wife telephoned.

Mrs. Murphy wanted me to know

a vicious strain of leukemia

had snuffed Kate Lauren Heinrich’s

bright life out.

Her seventh-grade friends sang

my remodeled poem as a eulogy

in celebration of her life.

I’ve got a funeral program,

pictures of the fifth-grade Kate,

and another of a blossoming young woman

with short blond hair

and a firm smile.

November 1st is still her birthday.

When the muse doesn’t move me,

my left knee aches,

or the sharks of cynicism are circling …

I think of Kate

and keep going.