Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Suck marrow
from what's been given -
it is never enough.
Scream when
platitudes pelt you
soggy righteousness.
Love is given
on paper plates
like store-bought cake.

Putting together poetry books for 3rd and 4th grade classes. I'm excited about searching out embroidery floss and an awl (or a nail from a hardware store, and a flat rock.) The kids will lace their books together tomorrow. We revise today! Some kids say "I don't want anything in the book." I ask again, "I'm alright," a boy says, as though I offered a second helping of green beans. I say everyone will get a copy. "I don't want one," says one girl. Three kids in middle school turned away their copies of our book. "I'm stupid," says the 4th grade boy who asked the earth to teach him the cleverness of the jaguar with its camoflage. He used the word "camoflage." He comes up with five more poetry lines, with me taking dictation. I am determined the book will have work from every child, not only the girls. The boys resist, but the teacher and the aide sit one on one, encouraging, taking dictation, like me. Each 4th grader turns in at least one poem. Some are excited about them. Maybe even proud.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New York Times Crossword Poem Draft

Cloud white sky, drive north, latte
in the cup holder, something in G clef
on the radio. Dial sticky. No Pam.
Commentator speaks in French or Irani.
The views inspire awe and apnea,
too light for brights or shooting star.
How far? NPR has run its gamut -
I listen again - a piece about a relic
the one that makes my hips ache - oil
and the Al- whatnots and Omars.
Twirl the dial as though it were tutu-
Sylvia Pogolli, a spot that shows me how -
red car on my tail, I flail and panic.
Antics? Let them age like stone
let sun warm to my foot sole
give me time with book and ink
and time to profer agile
pronunciations - Corinthian, Ionic -
Doric - I am not being metaphoric
the litter at the rest stop tops
the ancient tourist drive thru cedar
with the roof to keep out rot -
my aching eyes and earlobes
trash cans haloed with trash.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lock Down Drill

The third graders are choosing crayons from the teacher's cache, and passing the beaver-chewed yellow willow stick that looks like a canoe when a woman's stern voice over the intercom says, "We are code red. Teachers, lock down your classrooms." The teacher instructs the children to sit against the wall of drawers, and locks the class door. I tug at the window blind, which doesn't descend past 2/3 closed. A string hangs loose above my head. The teacher brings what she has, a poster, a large box holding a board game, to block more of that window. We join the line of children sitting silently, though some whisper. The teacher says, "you must be totally silent. There is an intruder in the building. We don't want him or her to know we are here." I was in a lockdown drill at an elementary school a few years ago. The kids were far squirrelier than these, I think to myself. I don't know if that's really accurate. I was thinking many things to distract myself from thinking this might be real. I was nervous about how open that window view was. If anyone were outside on that side wishing us ill, that person could aim easily through that huge opening. A girl sat one side of me, a boy on the other. Twenty-five minutes later, when the woman over the intercom informed us the red alert was over, the boy offered his hand to help me up. The teacher told us this had been a drill. She answered questions from the kids. One girl offered, "an intruder can be your father." Time for P.E.; I left the building.


Maybe a child
falls flat
skins a knee
that awful bump
the silent moment
the wailing
a fall is an abandonment
a surrender
a loss of innocence
as the scab hardens
and falls
will always
have been

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In the left rear rectangular basin
of this segmented school lunch tray
sits an orange, green and yellow
jumble slipped from serving spoon,
a humble geometry demonstration:
spherical dented peas, carrot cubes,
green beans clipped into one-inch
lengths, corn kernal purses. As
a child, I spent hours at the table
from dinner to bed for refusing
to ingest ancestors of the specimens
I almost do not eat today, but for
the fourth grade boy beside me,
pushing peas around his tray.

The sun has come back from vacation or the sanatorium, to lighten this afternoon, my mood, the pink-purple-green hair of the woman at the crosswalk - her hair like the popcycle man's rocket bar.

Having published the poetry book for the junior high kids I now bring in models for poems of identity. I've lost the conviction these poems should be shared willy nilly - thrown on Community Center walls and into collections, these kids are so vulnerable to reprisals and physical attack. Many of them write about physical attack. They trust me, and I am tired of feeding their real pain into the fundraising machine that keeps me coming into classrooms. Thursday I saw again the power kids find in writing what they know, they've gone through, and this is real. I told them these poems were between them and the page, to stay within the walls of the room, to, if they wanted, be shared with me, their teacher, but nowhere else unless they chose.

They do not read them aloud to each other.
Each is a sovereign nation.

One girl turned her desk to the wall to write today, hunched close to the file cabinet, shielded then by cabinet and wall, faced away from classmates either working or wiling away the hour cutting eye holes, one boy, from his paper, to make a mask, pretending, one girl, to be a horse and galloping from one end of the room to the other. Two writing resistors began poems in which they claimed to be selling drugs to the teachers. "Make it worse!" I said. Each wrote a complete poem. The poems were wicked-funny. One of them boys wrote "This is a lie" in the middle of his poem, then upped the stakes of evil activity, and the other ratted the mythic drug sellers out at the end: "If you want to find them, they're in room ###." A few weeks ago two teachers failed an in-school drug test. Each teacher in the school was led from her or his classrooms in view of the students by two folks from security. The two teachers were fired.

I had advised the kids to follow the pattern of the model poems, including student work, to write "in third person." Two kids sitting together couldn't get started. When I said, "make it about you, even if you lie, but tell it as 'she/he did this..." not "I did this." They told me nobody ever had explained third person before. That's possible. Or their self-protective armor kept them from listening at the moment this fact was revealed. What these kids need is not curriculum but connection. Is that a buzz phrase? I also know kids who can't write, can't read are expert at distraction, at derailing the process that will lead to the reveal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Boy do I miss napowrimo - I'm so obedient
I need permission to write poems.

This poem speaks with sober voice to cast away
desolation. It splays open to admit your stare.
Salted with truth and kindness, it travels
deserts and savannas, fields alive with maize.
My amazement shapes it, stirs its broth. It
echoes back-up from sorrow's canyon. When life
divides into ever smaller fractions, it gazes
like the ponchoed birder to chart our future.


and now for a two hour drive to teach two classes.