Monthly Archives: April 2019

#348: On the Last Day of National Poetry Month, the American English Teacher Writes Several Minimalist Poems About Things He Finds in the Staff Lounge

Coffee

Made a single cup;
fuel needed after waking
at 4 in the morning.

Vinegar

There’s a bottle of balsamic
on the table, waiting to be
drizzled over someone’s
leftovers for lunch.

100 Hits

Here’s a copy of
Billboard’s Hottest
Hot 100 Hits, a gift to
the staff lounge
from an intern of mine
from two years ago.
His name was Chuck.

History Adoption

In an era that finds
the textbook mostly
obsolete, several choices
are on display on a table
in the staff lounge.

Vending Machines

Chips, candy, and soda.
Only one sugarless choice:
seltzer. These machines
keep humming.

Crap

There’s some crap in here
no one uses and no one wants:
desk organizers, empty binders,
old VHS tapes that Melanie left,
a 2016 copy of U.S. News &
World Report, the “Find the Best
Colleges for You” edition.

Who? 

Who will throw out the crap?
Who will clean the microwave?
It belongs to nobody.
It’s nobody’s business.

The Lounge

The principal before
the one before the one
we have now, maybe
15 years ago, bought
two burgundy love seats,
a matching chair, and
a coffee table that looks
like a box in order to
beautify the lounge
and make it  more
comfortable.

Dr. Rex Putnam Award

Candidate summaries. Please,
DO NOT REMOVE.

We Love You

in gigantic letters
taped up on the wall
from last year’s teacher
appreciation week,
maybe even from the
year before. It’s so hard
to keep track of the love.
We have to remind ourselves
by looking at this wall
every day.

 

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#347: A Prose Poem Meditation on the Penultimate Day of National Poetry Month by the American English Teacher in His Potentially Penultimate Professional Year, Ending in a Rhyming Couplet

Andrea Ngyuen

The natives are restless, the 9th graders are rowdy, won’t stop talking, interrupt almost every teacher phrase with chatter, and because my intern has the class, I am completely unruffled. It’s the penultimate day of National Poetry Month and this is my penultimate poem in prose in the April of my potentially penultimate school year as a classroom English teacher.

Over the last three days, I wrote three poems, each about travel, each ending with the same sentence. You are here. I’m reminded of that saying, wherever you go, there you are. Or the Player’s line in the Stoppard play, something like, every exit is an entrance somewhere else. Coming and going, with perfect equanimity, you are always, and I am always, right here.

After next school year, in this moment, I am almost certain that I will not be here. But uncertainty is a constant companion. I said, it feels like jumping off a cliff. Or standing on a cliff, and maybe I’m looking down at a precipitous drop or looking out on some astounding vista. It really depends on the moment. I prefer vistas to drop-offs. In this moment, I choose vistas.

I notice what this poem is doing. Without my being conscious of it, paragraphs are landing in this draft in nearly identical chunks of five lines, four that move all the way to the end of the margin, and one, the last line–two, three, and then four words long. Now, I am conscious of a pattern, and I am planning to end this stanza in prose with a short line of five carefully chosen words.

It all depends on the margins. Type this poem up in a Word document, or publish it on your blog, and things will shift. Our margins shift like this. The only margin that doesn’t shift is the first one–our births are non-negotiable; on this day, December 4, 1964, you were born. Our careers begin somewhere in the squishy regions of early adulthood, and, if we are lucky, very lucky, they end 30-some years later.

My brother worked over 40 years at a job he didn’t really like. His retirement at 62 or thereabouts was an escape. He said good riddance and walked away. And he walked away so late because there were no other options. Again, I have been stupidly lucky. Luckier, and not so lucky, as my father, who retired, like I hope to, at 55. He had full health care from the moment he left work.

But I have loved my job, and I don’t know that my father loved his. He never spoke about it. I could hardly even tell you now what it was that he did for a living. It was a government job and he worked downtown and once he took a computer class and brought home a bunch of punch cards. My son knows what I do simply by virtue of his being a student in a public school classroom. What your teacher does–that’s your Dad.

God, look at all of these books, file cabinets full of 30-years worth of handouts, lesson plans, readings, exams; check out all of this student generated art that I’ve never tossed, that quilt for The Color Purple, the portraits of the family from Geek Love, portraits of Virginia Woolf, the beautiful and huge broadside of William Stafford’s “Your Life”-the treasured haul of an English teacher’s career.

If I take all of this home my wife will murder me.
Health care will no longer be an issue, ironically.  

Abbey Nims

I don’t know who made this. A team of students. Circa 1995ish? 

 

Abbey Hayes

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#346: I Drove Through the Desert and Back Over a Mountain to Get Home

acb9976b63b44aa7eba38aa874fad2eb

I drove for three hours, through the desert and back over a mountain, to get home. Listening to XTC the whole way, I felt every twenty minutes or so tears of gratitude welling up, which I staved off, because I was driving at sixty-five miles per hour and singing along to every single song, neither activity conducive to weeping, even though I felt like weeping, even though I kind of wanted it.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home. Sometimes, you feel luckier than you deserve, you feel somehow unworthy of this kind of life, even with its bullshit struggles, even with its blights; these are your bullshit struggles and your blights, your insecurities and idiosyncratic hang-ups and disappointments, but you still feel lucky. You think about the people you love in your life and you want to cry for that richness. And you think about these strangers you just spent a weekend with, and you feel love for them too, and privileged and honored to know and serve them, and that makes you want to cry.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home, and I felt that way, stupid and lucky, flawed and happy, unworthy and honored, in awe and full of wonder for this life, on the verge of tears, while Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding sang to and with me, and every sign I saw along the drive said the same thing: You are here.

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#345: According to This Map

from The Atlas of Experience by Jean Klare

I have lived for a long time now in the country of Autumn, ruminating in the mountains near the capital city of Change, trying to see my way back into Summer. I know I’m going to hike my way through Somewhere on my way over the Plains of Solitude, and I may have to take a detour where Surrender falls between Ardour and Vulnerable, all three sleepy towns where no one knows my name. I understand the wind can be rough on the way to Enthusiasm, but I’m gonna make the trek down to the capital city of Growth. I hope to live there the rest of my life, but I think I would like to vacation on the Peninsula of Pleasure, see the sights at Happy, Rambling, Long Evenings, not to mention Monty Python. Someday if I have a really nice big boat, I could sail all the way around the continent from the Ocean of Peace into the Sea of Plenty, around Spring and in through the Sea of Possibilities, and I would try not to get stuck in Frozen Wastes, where the towns of Mockery, Indifference and Biting Sarcasm set their traps.

According to this map, I’m not lost, I’m just on the way. Wherever I am, I look up, and the signs say, You Are Here.

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#344: I Drove Over the Mountain to Get Here

I drove over the mountain to get here. I drove over Mount Hood. I drove over the mountain into the desert. Eventually, I ended up close to three other mountains, the ones we call The Sisters. I drove over the mountain to get here. This is the place where I will try to help people look inwardly. This is the place where I will observe the silence. I drove over the mountain to practice listening, next to these other mountains. I drove over the mountain to a town called Wonder, or Solitude. I drove over the mountain to create community with complete strangers. I drove over the mountain to this place. Look up: the sign says, You Are Here.

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#343: The Steampunks of Spring

Steampunk Art by Brenda Adams

The Steampunks of Spring

Two octopuses sit on the window sill
sporting their top hats and flight goggles,
little works of art made mostly from
recycled odds and ends, scrap
leather, gears, watch parts, wheels,
lucite grapes, steel wire, old jewelry, junk.
Behind them, through the glass,
Spring arrives. The oaks are alive
with squawking crows and
the chirps of the small bird, finch,
robin, blue jay, warbler. Any
evening now the crickets will
begin their buzzing. Mowers
and blowers are constantly busy,
the smell of cut grass is everywhere,
any day now the oaks will leaf,
and I have octopuses on the sill,
the steampunks of spring.

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#342: G is for Gully-Whumper

You’re going to hear a real gully-whumper
right about now. If you weren’t such a gulpin
you’d have a chance of seeing right through
the gum. In my life, I have never heard such
gummation. Go ahead and pour yourself some
guinea red, loosen yourself before the gumball machine
comes down the gravel drive. Don’t give me
any of that gumfudgeon, you gummy. They’re
after you, all right. It doesn’t take a gumshoe
to figure out your under the gun, on the gun, so
you better jump the gun, ride the gun or else
get the gun sooner or later. I’d be smoking some
gungeon right about now, if I were you.
I’d guarandamntee it, I would, I would.

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#341: This Animal, This Dog.

Say the word animal.
Look at this dog.
It doesn’t seem right
somehow. The word
animal simultaneously
not sufficient and too
much. This creature
seems to rise above
the distinction, as you
talk to it and feel for it,
pick up after it and
play with it as if it
were a human child.
And yet, a lion is an
animal. Giraffes are
animals, and for some
reason, you, most of us,
have forgotten or
have never actually
believed that people
are also animals.
You are an animal.
This animal is you.
And even if you didn’t
choose, even if the dog
just kind of landed
on your lap, so to speak,
even if you believe that
life would be so much
simpler and easier
without the demands
on you of caring for
this animal, your heart
melts when you look
at this face, you squirm
with joy in response
to her kisses, a tongue
in your ear, nibbles on
your fingers, and you
know no sweeter
sensation than burying
your face in the clean,
sweet fur of her coat.
This animal, this dog.

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#340: Skylarking

Skylarking-500x500

It’s 1986, the winter
after our wedding and we’re
living in a shack. Seriously,
I’m not a tall guy and I can
stand in the living room
and place my hands flat
on the ceiling. It’s the holiday
season and I’ve just bought
XTC’s “Skylarking,” which
I listen to from start to finish
over and over and over again,
sitting on our cheap-ass
rattan settee from Pier One
Imports, headphones blasting.
It’s cold outside but Andy sings
of Summer’s Cauldron, Colin sings
about adolescent sex, the birds
chirp and the keyboards thrum
and Super Supergirl comes on
and I’m on fire like I’ve never
been about how good a good
pop song can be in the hands
of master songwriters. And
Rundgren’s production, his
attempt to make them sound
American and their response
to sound more English than ever,
so perfectly wrong and beautiful.
The strings of 1,000 Umbrellas
sing to me under Andy’s
woeful lament of joyful misery
as The Season’s Cycle moves
round and round. Side two
finds me right where I am,
newly married, schooling
unfinished, worrying about
whether I can Earn Enough
For Us after our Big Wedding Day.
My mind blown by the
perfect fusion of rock,
jazz, and big idea in The Man
Who Sailed Around His Soul,
and finally, a pop song
gives me words to express
my budding atheism and I am
grateful beyond all account.
Poor and happy, hopeful,
this record gives me 14 songs
to sing for the rest of my life
and I am still singing them,
will keep singing them
in my Dying, while Colin
croons along in this great
Sacrificial Bonfire of existence.

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#339: A Poem for Easter

BunnyJesus

Jesus and the Easter Bunny walk into a bar.
Sugar ants invade the bathroom, are crawling
all over the toothpaste tube and toothbrushes.
They are not, necessarily, on friendly terms;
it goes almost without saying.
The bunny goes in for Steam Punk art,
likes Jesus and the Mary Chain, which the Son
of God finds amusing, and in the off season
dresses entirely in black. Jesus has read the
four gospels and has many questions.
Sugar ants are easily bored, and they appear
to materialize out of nowhere, are interested
in what Jesus is drinking, a Pinot Noir most
likely. One would be surprised how many
varieties of biting insects there are in the backyard
and in the bedroom. Jesus wonders if sugar ants
are biters. Decides not to look into that any further.
The Easter Bunny drinks Bourbon, neat. He’s
curious why Jesus has invited him. They’ve not
been on what you could call speaking terms.
Customarily, Jesus does not kill insects, but an
ant swims around in his glass and has drowned
by the time he fishes it out. This one does not bite.
Have you read them? Jesus asks. Read what?
The four Gospels. Can’t say that I have, says the Bunny.
Do you know how many immaculate conception
stories there are, across cultures, across the
millennia? And how many resurrections?
As the sugar ants pass him by, one by one,
The Bunny picks them up and puts them in
his mouth. I have not counted, he says to Jesus,
but I suspect there are as many as there are
sugar ants crossing the bar. Do you believe them?
I believe sugar ants, Jesus says. They’re as plain
as the nose on your face. How do they taste?
It’s not the season, he says, too early. And some
of these guys have a decidedly minty thing
going on, almost like they’ve been swimming
in toothpaste. I mean to say, it’s not that unusual,
Jesus says, my birth, my death, my rebirth, or
yours, yours, yours. And the ants go marching.

 

 

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