Tag Archives: National Poetry Month

#308: An Attempted Explanation

As soon as I decided not to go shopping for music
the second day in a row, my car horn alarm went
off and I couldn’t get it to stop. I sat there in the car,
parked, engine running, horn blasting, poking and
pushing every conceivable control surface, even
the ones I knew wouldn’t work, wipers, headlights,
stereo volume. My fob battery is dead. It was no use.
Suddenly the horn stopped its hellacious honk and
I don’t know why, have no idea what I did or said.
On the way home I was stuck waiting for
a train. Upon arrival, finally, the horn started
blasting again. I should have bought that record,
the one I wanted yesterday but decided on some
other thing instead, not feeling flush enough for both.
Yeah, I know these things are unrelated, and so its
likely the horn would have begun blasting in the
record store parking lot. But I was thinking about
causes and effects, coming home from group
meditation practice, where I tried unsuccessfully
to telepathically send and receive messages
with a partner, distrusting the process, wondering
about whether I was the only one in the room
who felt incompetent at telepathy. It’s just not
my expertise. I’ve got too many faith blockers.
Don’t ask me to read someone’s mind unless
I can look at their face and listen to them talk,
or let’s just be together in silence. You can
read me a poem. Maybe afterwards, someone
speaks, but maybe not, and that will be fine.

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#306: Letters to His Sister (Point of View Cluster in Frankenstein)

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Q: Hey kids, what’s the point of view in this here novel? You know, who speaks and to whom are they speaking?

A: Well, Walton, he’s the speaker, and he’s writing letters to his sister. But at some point, Victor is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, but then, Elizabeth is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, at another point, Victor’s father Alphonse is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, still later, the monster is speaking to Victor who is relaying all of this to Walton who is writing letters to his sister. And Victor, of course, has a photographic memory, not a detail is omitted; and Walton, obviously, has serious-mad dictation skills, doesn’t miss a single beat in those letters to his sister.

 

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#305: The Offending Journal

the offending journal redacted

I’ve seen students copy all kinds
of stuff from one another,
sometimes going as far as
copying down word for word
pages upon pages of a buddy’s
journal responses, the act of
copying all that text more work
than actually doing the work,
only with the added “benefit”
of not learning anything.

But I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

A student is transferring to another school,
would like to improve his grade before the transfer
so he has a better shot at passing the semester.
He turns in his past-due response journal.
For some reason the top of the cover
has been cut off but he has written me a note
of explanation: “my notebook was ripping
from top so I cut it off.” Okay, fair enough.
I start reading his journal and even though
much of it seems familiar to me, I am
exceedingly pleased in the moment.
It’s the best work the kid has done to date.
But then I get to his last entry and I see
my own writing there, my comments.
I’ve read his journal before. Then I realize:
the last time I read it, it belonged to a different kid.

So this guy, trying to put his best foot
forward at the new school, but not really
willing to break a sweat in the process,
doesn’t copy, he just steals, literally steals
another student’s journal. Cuts off the cover
with the student’s name on it, writes his
name on the page underneath. Doesn’t
notice before he consummates the crime
that my comments are there, that in them,
I address the other student by name.
Brazen? Brave? Bold? Or just stupid?
All of the above.
This is my final impression of a kid
that I will likely never see again.
I liked him. The last time I saw him,
right after he had given me the journal
but before I had a chance to look at it,
I wished him well and said goodbye.
My good wishes and an F follow him away.

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#304: Willy and Biff Loman Cross Paths with Talking Heads

Once in a Lifetime

(with gratitude to David Byrne and Arthur Miller)

What have they asked of themselves?
The tiniest slice of the pie belongs to
that beautiful house, which mostly,
they recognize because it’s a thing
they can see and a 25 year mortgage
they can feel, every month for 25 years.
Am I wrong? They have difficulty with this–
unwilling as they both are, the father more so than
the son, to face down their demons.
Where does that highway go to?
Out to the country on a farm?
Out on another futile sales trip?
Over a bridge on the water, carry the water,
under the water? Remove the water.
That large automobile, that
illusive, slippery part of the past,
that red chevy, or this new one–
it’s a kind of weapon.
How did I get here? How do I work this?
Two sides of the same coin, an insoluble
mystery for the father, the life’s work
of his son, striving for something like
full consciousness and awareness,
a sense of self not totally foreign and
packaged for them by exteriors
and other peoples’ hot-air expectations.
Am I right? Tell me, am I right?
They spend a big chunk of their energies
trying to convince themselves and the world
about the validity of their dreams,
same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
But ultimately, it’s about 25%:
My God, what have I done?
A quarter of the time:
My God, what have I done?
They know exactly what they’ve done.
One of them must die for it,
only once in a lifetime.
The other will live, saying
I know who I am.

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#303: The American English Teacher Strategizes for Kids Who Don’t Read

nonreaders

He assigns the pages
and when class convenes
he understands in short order
that only a few kids have bothered
to do the reading.
The age old dilemma of
the high school English teacher:
what can be done if kids won’t read,
not can’t, but won’t or don’t?

Reading everything in class,
either out loud or in silence
will get the reading part
of the job done, but it takes
forever, can be dull, leaves nothing
left over for discussion or
any kind of deeper analysis,
no time for paydirt, for fun.

There’s the ubiquitous
threat of a quiz or a test which
either lights a fire under their seats
or, more likely, just punishes most
everyone and rewards a few.
This English teacher is loath
to purposefully use assessment
as a “gotcha” move, punitive
and ineffectual. So then what?

Yesterday, one of his students made a
suggestion: We’ll do the reading during
one class, then we’ll talk about it
the next! What he was angling for,
essentially, is simply a world without
homework. And the American English teacher
finds himself, often, saying in response
to this proposal: Why the hell not?

Read less, read better.
Read better, like it more.
Like it more, read more.
Read more, do it willingly
as homework in later grades.
This seems like it could be
a formula for success, one that
in his 29th year of teaching,
he has suspected would work
all along, but only ever half-
heartedly employed as a practice.

Meanwhile, the American
English teacher assigns his
students an art project with
some directed text search
for the key developments
of chapters 4 and 5. Are they
able to do the work if they
haven’t read? Only if they
do the work now and work hard.
Are they at a serious advantage
if they actually did the reading
ahead of time? Certainly.
Is it possible that everyone
wins in this situation? Yes.
Is there anything wrong with that?
He doesn’t think so.
The students work diligently
throughout the period
and have good conversations.
But there’s still the nag
in the teacher’s heart that
somehow he’s handling them
with kid gloves. Imagine,
he thinks, handling kids with
kid gloves. O, the horror:
teaching within the tragic
gap between what is possible
and what is a reality.

 

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#302: Uncle Meaney

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My Uncle Meaney had a long white scar
over his midsection, and when he was
out boating on family vacations,
crabbing, oystering, deep sea fishing,
he’d go shirtless, and there was that
scar as clear as the writing in the sky.
I must have asked him, how’d you get the scar?
I was attacked by natives, he’d say.
He did not specify which natives or the
land on which they attacked him,
so it was probably a lie. He was not
a mean guy, but tough, adventurous,
survivalist mean, and the story of his
near death experience being chased by
natives helped make the significance
of “Uncle Meaney” vivid to us kids.
I have two theories, neither of which
I have attempted to verify, not since
his death some 15 years ago now at least.
Maybe he was cut open in a brawl
of some kind, that’s possible. But the
idea that strikes me as most likely,
and maybe I have even heard this
story but can’t remember its source,
is that during the war, his plane
was shot down across enemy lines,
and the injury came from the crash
and while he was bleeding out
he managed to extricate himself
from the wreckage and run, hobble,
crawl to safety. Uncle Meaney indeed.
Attacked by natives–German natives
maybe, as I have imagined it.
I have decided: it turns out that, after all,
the stories our uncles told us, even the lies,
were true.

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