Category Archives: Poetry

#368: It’s Friday

It’s Friday
at the end
of the second
weirdest teaching
week in history
and I’m not
going to write
a poem about
a piece of fruit.
In my resistance
to writing about
fruit, in addition
to a number
of diversions
today, I almost
neglected to write
a poem at all.
My impulse
today was to make
music, and I
fumbled my way
through that and
had some fun and
almost wrote a song.
That felt good.
Almost writing
a song today
felt better than
almost teaching
a class, which I
was a great distance
from doing,
and this, almost
writing a poem
about not wanting
to write a poem
about fruit–
that feels pretty
good too.

 

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#367: For Its Own Sake

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Here’s a question.
What motivates a person to do a thing,
especially a thing that is purported to be
good for a person–let’s say, eat right,
exercise, learn an instrument, learn
an instrument well, dance, sing, paint,
or act well, and while we’re at it, add into the mix
all the academic endeavors:
write well, read well, understand
history, compute effectively, think
scientifically, abstractly, metaphorically,
not to mention the soft skills (a phrase
I hate), of building and fostering
strong and healthy relationships
to self and others?
Why would anyone do these,
all, admittedly, difficult things?
Our system of education is
designed to reward individuals for
doing these things with gold stars,
praise, and grades. We have conditioned
generations of students to do
purportedly good things for themselves
so that they can achieve a carrot
or avoid a stick. But we all know,
there are healthy people, musicians,
dancers, singers, painters, actors,
writers, historians, mathematicians,
scientists and philosophers who did
not get where they are because
they were afraid of the dunce cap
or the chair in the corner or the
C minus. They got good at their craft,
whatever that craft may have been,
because they wanted to, for its own
sake, because they knew it to be good
without anyone ever telling them
it was good. And here we are,
in Oregon, about to embark on
the grand experiment: learning
for the sake of learning. And we’re
doing it now, not because we have
had some grand epiphany about
the supremacy of intrinsic motivation,
but because we have no other
choice if we are to make the end
of the pandemic school year as
equitable and as fair as we can make it,
so as not to make a terrible situation
more heinous than it already is.
Some people will be helped
more than others or will grow
more than others, but no one will be
punished or hurt by frowny faces
and failures, and maybe, without
the kind of risk or peril they typically
experience in schools, they may plug in,
not because they have to,
but because they choose to,
because they see the value of the thing,
in this case learning, for its own sake.

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#366: Ghost School

I saw two human beings
in this building that, on a
typical school day, houses
thirteen-hundred. I saw
our head secretary, Dee, spending
her Wednesdays from eight
to noon on site, and the head
custodian, Dan, spending a couple
hours a day doing odd jobs
until the crew can come back
in May, he hears, to do a deep
clean. If there were only two
people to see, they’d be the two,
two sides of the same coin,
the life-blood of the building.
Only the second time
I’ve visited the school since the
shutdown, less forlorn now,
but only because of Dee and Dan.
On the first visit, weeks ago now,
I found this deflated happy birthday
balloon all by itself in the
abandoned cafeteria, what we
call The Commons. That balloon,
two or three weeks later, has
somehow left the building.
I don’t know why, but I was
hoping to find it again.
Why did I come back today?
I collected a few things that
belonged to my intern;
I picked up books of ancient
Chinese poetry; I gathered
the last of my LP records, the
ones that were important
to my collection (The Mountain
Goats, Death Cab for Cutie,
Destroyer, Grizzly Bear);
I grabbed my Shakespeare
action figure, my action figure
librarian, and my magnetic
James Joyce finger puppet;
I picked up a stuffed frog
I’ve used as a talking stick,
but decided against bringing
it home. None of this stuff
was essential, but I drew the line
today with the stuffed frog.
It must have taken me all
of about 10 minutes to gather
up these things, but I was there
much longer, just standing
around, looking at the student art
on the walls and the furniture,
the tables in their pods,
taking pictures of this or that,
listening for the voices of
the hundreds upon hundreds
of kids that have inhabited
this space, trying not to cry.
I recorded myself singing
in an empty hallway (one
of the best things to do in a
ghost school), and I filmed
myself coming and going,
as if I wanted to remember
what that was like. Ridiculous.
I’ll be back here. I will do this
again. I will make this journey
hundreds of times. Things will
return to normal one day.
No matter. The loss here is
palpable and real and echoes
through these hallowed halls.

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the abandoned balloon

pano of the commons

pano of deserted classroom, mine

as you walk in or out of the door of A9

 

some white board graffiti, a reference, perhaps, that I don’t understand

 

the talking stick stuffed frog

Photo on 4-22-20 at 1.38 PM #3

at home with a teacher’s toys

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#365: Staff Meeting in a Google Hangout

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Our principal postponed
the official and virtual staff meeting
until Thursday, expecting new
information about distance
learning to come in after our
regularly scheduled Tuesday
morning Hangout. He held the
Tuesday meeting open, though,
made it voluntary, invited us
to attend for mostly social reasons.
I’m guessing about 30 of us
showed up at that virtual meeting.
We talked about grocery shopping,
the best place, the best time,
gardening, home projects, children,
dogs, better lighting for video posts,
how to view everyone in a grid,
Jack’s mustache, my disco hoodie,
and the virtual cornhole competition.
My friend Drew said the other day,
or maybe he posted it, that he
held a little bit at arm’s length
the sentimentality with which we
sometimes view our teaching
community–until now. 30 of
us sat together this morning,
looking at tiny little moving pictures
of each other scattered across
a slightly less tiny computer screen,
and we talked about nothing,
we talked about everything,
and sometimes, we all sat there
for a moment or two in silence,
which is fine by me, just looking
at one another, smiling, laughing,
almost as if we were in the same
room at the same time.
This poem would like to avoid
a sloppy ending; I feel it, under
my fingers as I type this, resisting
that sentimental slide. But there’s really no
other way to say that I love the
people I work with, and while I’d
much rather see them up close,
this odd, awkward, cold way
of being with them is way better
than nothing, and I am grateful
for every minute of it.

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#364: In Case of Emergency

(for Trisha Wick)

Twenty-four years ago I wrote a poem,
a sonnet, about the flood of ’96.
It described the six feet of river water
in my wife’s parent’s basement, that whole
devastation, and the kids and families
in the neighborhood who came to help
restore and repair the house, the home,
and hope. A student of mine, her family’s
home was flooded, too, but I didn’t know
that when I shared the poem with the class.
Later, this student brought to me a gift:
She had embroidered all fourteen lines and
framed it. In the case of emergency,
like now, art is the healing property.

 

Here’s the original sonnet–one that more closely follows the rules! Composed in the spring of ’96, the embroidered version was gifted to me the following spring from Tricia Wick, who I think was graduating from high school that year. She would become a teacher, too, and later, serve on my school district’s board of education!

A Sonnet After the Flood (1996)

Winter was harsh this year, and if that’s not
enough, then came the flood that washed away
our parents’ basement.  It was just their lot
to find five feet of sewage in their way.
The first victim sometimes is hope itself;
they’re aging, tired, too much so to rebuild
what took three decades, an enormous wealth
of spirit, and two lively kids to fill.
But what looks like a winter of despair
turns into something else when, looking up
the driveway, they see answers to their prayers.
Children with shovels, strangers in pick-ups.
Next time we hear the talk, “Our kids are doomed,”
we’ll think of these and note how faith resumes.

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#363: These Trees

These trees are about to explode. Every
year I attempt to catch the moment and
every year I miss it. This year, outside
in the yard every day, time to kill, I
look up to see what’s happening. They’re close
to leafing, I can almost hear it. You
can see, in some of them, little clusters
of stuff beyond branches, not yet leaves, but
something like that, fit to burst. I love these
trees. In the spring and in the summer I
love them, but in and around October
we are buried and it takes us sometimes
until the end of the year to dig out from
under. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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#362: Small Pleasures: A List

Dogs sleeping together.
These birds in the back,
from every bird a different
song. The “who” of that dove.
We’ve never had doves
and now we have a dove.
Squirrels being squirrels.
Animals reclaiming Yosemite,
lions asleep in the streets
in South Africa.
Air that’s good to breathe.
The clerk at the liquor store
who calls everyone sweety,
darling, dear, or honey.
The first sip of a good whiskey.
The way toothpaste
and coffee actually compliment
each other.
Playing catch with the boy.
Watching a show with the boy.
The boy spontaneously helps
around the house,
appears to enjoy my company.
A room of students who get it.
The initial sitting
for meditation, all those minutes
before the feet fall asleep.
Music. Music. Music.
The sense of having written
a kick-ass sentence.
The feeling of
having absolutely nothing
to do.

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