He maintains the truth around him,
each and every room in turn.
Every vessel of knowledge matters,
each as important as the one before,
the last, the first, and all between.

He doesn’t breeze through his work.
He sweeps away the dust and pencil shavings,
but doesn’t wipe away the residue of art,
that which was created so fervently,
if yet without much skill.
He has a trunk at home
filled with his own children’s artwork,
and each piece he sees fills him anew.

He sometimes skins his knuckles,
making minor repairs to this and that,
but that doesn’t matter. It’s just a covering,
as his job doesn’t cloak who he is.

/ / /

This poem was written in response to Wordle 19 at The Sunday Whirl. Thanks to Brenda, as always, for these wordles. And thanks again for choosing words from one of my poems. It’s good to be missed, but it’s even better to be back reading and writing again.

Obviously, being back in the classroom has influenced my subject matter.

Elementary School Poetry 180 – Week Two

Here are the five poems I read last week:

I still have a student who says, “That was short” when I finish reading a poem. All of these fit on a single page except for “Numbers”. There was some discussion of the last stanza of that one, a bit of confusion about what to make of “three boys”, “two Italians”, and “one sock”.

I think I’m going to drop “Ozymandias”. While I like it, and it’s fun to read aloud, I think it’s too heady for ten-year-olds. They just don’t know what to make of it.

Thirteen Ways

Less than a day’s drive
from the Sierra Nevada
sits the city of San Francisco.

Water has three states,
a secular trinity
that provides life.

The autumn winds pull the fog
through the Golden Gate.

Hydrogen and oxygen
are one.
Liquid and ice and vapor
are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
the beauty of thirst
or the beauty of slaking it.
Lifting the full glass
or emptying it.

Icicles filled the picture
above December’s grid,
those barbaric teeth
of old man winter,
or are they instead
translucent carrots
growing in the sky?

Oh bachelors of the city
surrounded by golden-skinned birds,
do you watch them as they sip
so delicately their vitamin waters
after their runs along the bay?

I know the taste
of accented water –
the teas and coffees
and their rhythms
of afternoon and morning.

As the fog burned off,
its disappearing edge
was natural magic.

At the sight of the marine layer,
giving everything a gray hue,
even the purples of pigeons
were a welcome flash of color.

He walked across the bridge,
stopping to look out at Alcatraz
-no glass cage for him-
and the fear
of too much freedom
and too much restraint
was the fog’s shadow on him.

The sixteen rivers are moving.
The bay must be alive.

In the morning, the family left the city
for afternoon snow-
it was going to snow
they said on the news-
to watch the evergreens turn white.

/ / /

This is a poem I originally wrote in April 2010 for Poetic Asides. I don’t think I’ve posted it before. (I couldn’t find it on my blog, even using a search.) I did revise a couple of the stanzas, but otherwise, it is as I originally wrote it.

I submit it in response to the Thirteen Ways of Looking prompt at We Write Poems. This is an idea I’ve used before. I learned it from Susan Sibbet, a poet who comes to my school from California Poets in the Schools. But I’m glad that Margo suggested it for all of us.

A Francisco San School Day

It was one of those days.
You know what I’m talking about.
There was the tremor in the morning
that left everyone unsettled.
No plaster cracked or fell from the walls,
but we all still shuddered inside
sporadically throughout the day.

Actually, it started before that
when I forgot the words to the pledge
of allegiance, as if I was that no man
who is an island, bound to none.
Another teacher gave me the glare
that said I was being seditious,
but it was my brain in rebellion
against me, not my heart.

And then walking up the stairs
to the classroom, it was as if the tread
of my shoe was gone, every step
was wrong, the wetness of the morning fog
now squeaking off loudly on the stairs,
my foot slipping so I almost fell,
and then giving a flat tire
to the little fourth-grade girl
struggling up the stairs in front of me.

After the tremor, they were timid.
Afraid to ask questions, to take smart risks,
as if the stigma of the label of special education
had been stamped on them all.
They weren’t themselves, as if their nether selves
had crawled up and thrown their sacred selves down.

I didn’t teach a single thing that day.
I swear everything I did only hindered
their progress rather than aiding it.
My lesson plans weren’t on my clipboard.
I couldn’t find the copies I’d made
the previous day. The teacher’s edition
wasn’t on the shelf of my podium.
My every effort only enmeshed my students
in a net of incompetence and ignorance.
By the end of the day, we were a tuft,
a dense clump, of humanity.

I dismissed them at two,
and sat alone in my classroom until three
dismissing myself.

/ / /

For this poem, I combined two prompts, Wordle 17 from The Sunday Whirl, and the prompt from Poetic Asides to write an “everything is against you” poem. Thanks to Brenda and Robert.

The Banker

it’s easy to see desperation
in the eyes of a stranger

not so easy to turn your heart
to granite and slouch by,
but you’ve managed it

you spin your stories
how they’ve wasted their lives,
that they’ve cracked their minds
on drugs, cheapened their bodies

you concern yourself
with how dirty they are,
not ash on their skins
but the oily residue
of urban life

if only they were clean
you tell yourself

but the truth is
you are afraid
afraid that they will screw you
as you’ve screwed them

you fear the revolution
that they’ll rise
and throw you to the ground
from the corporate parapets
you think protect you

but when the revolution of your soul comes
when all worldly concerns are cleansed
you will not find yourself
in the presence of light

/ / /

This poem was written in response to Wordle 18 at The Sunday Whirl.

My body is a school.

My body is a school.

The principal and teachers are meeting
in the faculty room of my brain.
They are discussing the best ways
to improve their students’ faculties.

My eyes are a vision
of a brighter future,
but right now it’s raining
and the visibility’s not so good.

My ears have the capacity
of an auditorium,
for questions, music,
problems, poems,
and confidences kept safe.

My shirt is brightly colored,
a primary color with short sleeves.
There are no tricks up my sleeves,
just grease on my elbow,
and copier toner under my fingernails.

I have a full, satisfied feeling
in my cafeteria stomach.

There are students running
through my intestinal hallways.
It tickles, stirring up serotonin.

My hands are empty.
There are no more supplies
to carry upstairs
from the supply room.
But they are open,
full of compassion and giving.
They are ready to reach out
and help someone up.

One foot is stuck in the mud
of public apathy,
while the other is unstable
on the shifting sands
of governmental mismanagement.
My balance is good
and my legs are strong.
I’ve had lots of practice
traversing this land.
And somehow
I keep moving forward.

/ / /

This poem is in response to the prompt from Poetic Asides to write a school poem.

Elementary School Poetry 180 – Week One

It was way too crazy a week ago for me to post the poems I was going to read. Instead, on Mondays I will be posting the poems I read the previous week to my students. ┬áIn fact, I didn’t get to reading any poems aloud until the fourth day, when I read four in a row.

In the spirit of “Introduction to Poetry”, we just “walk inside the poem’s room”. Students are welcome to comment, if they like, but I ask no questions of them. There is no analysis. That may come later – and as a separate activity. I am going to try poems with VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies, this year. I think “The Tyger” might be an interesting one to try later in the year.

“Jabberwocky” was a poem some students had heard or read before. All the others were new to them. We did comment on the made up words in the Lewis Carroll poem. And a student did mention how “This Is Just to Say” was a poem of apology.