#300: The American English Teacher Gets His Courage Shit Together

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“This shit works” –heard in conversation with Rick, and then later with Paul or Jeff, one or both of whom attributed it to Parker Palmer, perhaps apocryphally.

20 years ago
I thought to myself
there’s no way I can do this
for another 20 years.
I would need the strength
of a half dozen supermen,
the fortitude of a freight train,
the stamina of a great white or
a killer whale. I would need
the selflessness of a Gandhi,
a Jesus, and a shell as thick as
an armadillo, a turtle, a tank.
I have acquired none
of these things, and yet,
here I am, 20 years later,
still teaching. All it required,
apparently, was to get my
courage shit together,
to work the heart muscle
in such a way that enabled
me to live in the tragic gap
without going certifiable,
to listen with full attention,
to learn to love the questions,
to befriend, no, to fall in love
with the stillness of silence,
to talk to myself, honestly, alone
and in the company of strangers,
to trust in a process that invites
and nurtures that shy finch, that
wild doe, that obnoxious but
nevertheless beautiful clover,
that creeping and persistent shadow,
that most illusive of mythic and
magical creatures situated right
around in here somewhere.
For lack of a better word,
I call that the soul, an unruly
but steadfast little beast I first
encountered on the courage way,
20 years ago.

 

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#299: In a Dream, a Hammer Crushed a Teacup

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In a dream, a Hammer crushed
a Teacup, Seagulls flew overhead,
one, wearing a Ballet Slipper,
having lost its mate to a Shark.
I sit at a Wobbly Table, recently
crowned a third time by my
Dentist, singing the Rowboat song.

My therapist, who specializes in
dream interpretation, is sad.
He has no idea what it means.
In fact, he says, he’s worried
about me. But he takes a stab
at it, anyway, because, you know,
what the hell. Hammers, typically
symbolize a violence of some
kind, Teacups, insecurity,
Seagulls, a moment of scarcity,
Ballet slippers, a thing
for ballet slippers, Sharks, danger
lurking or the fear of it, Wobbly
tables, instability, especially
concerning furniture, Dentists,
masochistic tendencies, and the
Rowboat song, infantilism.
None of it is good and
he recommends that I check
myself in. Offers condolences.

This is when I decide to
stop seeing this particular therapist.

I trust my own interpretation:
Hammer: strength, obviously.
Teacup: intellectual sophistication, duh.
Seagulls: rising above the garbage of the world.
Ballet Slippers: a thing for ballet slippers.
Sharks: personal power and agency, of course.
Wobbly tables: a healthy, but off-kilter approach to my problems.
Dentists: the fear of Dentists. Nothing we can do about that.
Row row row your boat, gently down a stream.
Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be just fine.

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#298: Upended Pie Song

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Bye bye miss American key lime pie.
I drove the Chevy to the estuary, but the estuary was a sound.
Those good old boys were drinking thistles and brine,
singing, would you like some cheese with your wine,
which they sang again for good measure.

Did you write that book with gloves?
And do you have a space for a few more gloves
if the Bible says it’s so?
Or do you believe in pick up trucks?
Can music save the broncos’ bucks,
and can you dance with me to teach me stuff?

And while a thing was cooking clowns
Manchester was the Stone Roses’ town.
The jury’s still out about that band
and no verdict is forthcoming.

And while John Lennon sang all you need is wine
and the quartet practiced all the time,
We sang dirges. We prefer dirges.
Singing: this will be the day that I whine.
This will be the day I drink wine.

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#297: Front Yard Haibun

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Mid April, that Japanese maple explodes first with leaves and the giant oak trees follow its little footsteps a few weeks later. It all happens at once. Most years no one sees it. One day there are no leaves. Next day a million leaves. The grass greens. There’s a hammock sometimes to nap in and those darn squirrels are at the bird feeders at all hours. In the distance there, beyond the road, there used to be four solitary homes, also covered in green. They were also hard to see, hiding, blending in as if they belonged there. In this old photo, the roofline of one juts out from under the greenery. But while the blooming of the front yard appears to occur overnight, the disappearing of old homes, rentals, the removal of all that vegetation, and the building of new roads, new lines for water, sewer, gas, and electricity, and thirty-two new houses, these things take years, so that, without photographic evidence, it is hard to remember or imagine how different things used to be in those greener, quieter days.

A story erased
so that new ones can replace
and then germinate.

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#296: The 11th Poem of April

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was difficult to write.
I didn’t like today’s suggestion.
I thought about witch hunts,
fist fights between teenagers,
and spring time rain.
I thought about my dogs
and how angry I was at
the one for waking me up
at 2 in the morning and at
the other because she took
a dump on my meditation
cushion. Not to mention the
vomit. It was a sock, I think,
wholly formed, covered in
dog stomach bile, I found
on the stairway landing.
I thought about drummers
and drumlines, drumsets
and rock and roll records.
None of it, on this 11th day
of April, floated my boat.
I introduced Romanticism
to 15 year olds today.
That was something.
I played them some Wagner
and some Beethoven and
some Led Zeppelin for good
measure and I think they
understood. But, you know,
during the discussion of the
opening letters by Robert
Walton to his sister, it was
clear that only a handful
of kids knew what the hell
we were talking about.
That could make a poem,
I suppose, a rant about how
young people don’t read.
In numerology, 11 is the
most intuitive of all numbers.
It is instinctual, charismatic,
dynamic and capable when its
sights are set on a concrete goal.
11 is the number associated
with faith and psychics, all of
which I stole verbatim from
numerology.com, which is an
actual thing, a thing for which
I am immensely grateful, because
it helped me to finish this poem.

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#295: Simultaneously

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251 babies are born every minute
and 105 people die.
That’s not sustainable, just saying.
18 million people just got
into a motor vehicle, not the
same vehicle, obviously.
There are 1500 active volcanos
and earthquakes are always happening.
75 people just bought a burger
at McDonald’s.
75 people just bought a burger
at McDonald’s.
This goes on–every second–75 burgers.
On my meditation app,
when my closing bell rings,
my phone tells me how many
people were meditating “with” me.
For fun, I’m going to meditate
right now for a minute.
Mmm. That was nice.
3,771 people just meditated
with me. 4.5 billion people
are asleep at any given moment,
which makes sleeping a lot
more popular than meditation.
If you spend enough time
thinking about how many
people in the world are doing
exactly the same thing you’re
doing in any given moment,
you might feel yourself small
and insignificant. You are.
And you are not. You share
molecules with Shakespeare
and that star that exploded.
Everyone can claim as much.
You are tiny and everywhere
at once, and that should really
make you feel accomplished
right along side the rest of us,
simultaneously.

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