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The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain

Wallace Stevens encapsulated the poetry’s strength. It recognizes each person’s artistry and fuels the rhythm of life. Life is a creative process. Our creations anchor us as we sense our way through life with no visible path and markers. We are adventurers in an uncharted space. No one else has lived this before or afterward. In this way, life is a work of art and takes the place of a mountain. We experience it as a deeply sensual, intimate, and creative voyage that comes from deep within our souls.

There is it was, word for word,

The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,

Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed

A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,

Shifted the rocks and picked his way among the clouds,

For the outlook, that would be right,

Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactness

Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,

Recognize his unique and solitary home.

I Believe in All That Has Never Yet Been Spoken

I am getting back into a groove after my first full week home. I let things flow a bit this week. Rilke suggested letting go or not contriving in this poem. When I don’t over plan, I find I am more open and accept the flow of things much like the beginner’s mind of a child. Watching children engrossed in play is a reminder that can happen for me as an adult and, as it does, the river widens and flows in every widening channels. Life becomes somehow larger, but not in an explainable way.

Posting images of our trip through Glacier National Park is believing in all that has never yet been spoken. Nature allows me to speak without using words. It is a palette of creation which speaks without speaking and shares without words. It just is and teaches through its presence.

The role of sabbath is to rest on the swelling and ebbing currents and rest in each moment. Perhaps, as I do, I take an expanded mind and soul into next week.

I believe in all that has never been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in those swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

 

The Road Not Taken

Several asked asked  several times what I would do after the end of the school year. There is no set plan, but we spent a fair amount of time on the weekend beginning a website and some design of a logo for my next adventure. This is an opportunity to continue with several loves: learning, writing, and try make a difference, albeit a small one in the world. There is no certainty of where it takes us. Unlike the bureaucracies I tangled with my entire adult life, this is an opportunity to, as Robert Frost said, “take the road less traveled.” Where I go will not be planned out, but will be an opportunity to make a mark on the trail that others might find and follow.

I get to do this with Kathy. She is much sharper than I am when it comes to the details of a website, planning a logo, and setting the direction the first steps need to take. I get to combine a number of things I love deeply in this new adventure.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Making Contact

What drew me to education? I believed, and still do, I make a difference in the lives of young people entrusted to me for a year or more by their parents. It is a covenant. Yesterday, someone noticed a sticker on the classroom door. Someone had written: “Mr. P. is a good Math teacher.” A student asked if I was a good Math teacher and I responded, “No, I teach students, not subjects.” Virginia Satir described the contact teachers encourage children’s lives. We must never lose this aspect of relationship with other people, particularly children. The reciprocal nature of being  is critical to humanity and humanness. The whole person emerges in the safety of these relationships.

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having from anyone

is

to be seen by them,

heard by them,

to be understood

and touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

The Old Man and the Sea – The Limerick

We wrote limericks again today. Some students finished the ones they had begun and others were absent. One student from the latter group wanted to know what could go with something about the sea. I threw this out, but she wasn’t interested. I think it is the abridged story of the Old Man and the Sea.

There was an old man who lived on the sea.

He loved an occasional cuppa tea.

Unfortunately, he the water was from the brine.

He joyfully turned to wine.

That drunken old man who lived on the sea.

Limericks

I started on the academic work last night. I was productive as I tracked down some books that I have in my library and added to the library with a book order.

Yesterday, we began our poetry unit at school. I enjoy it and I think, for the most part, the students do as well. They grumble a bit, but, when they start writing they are laughing. We wrote limericks. I wander around the room, talk my way through limericks, and write one or two down on the board. It is mostly off the top of my head and they are fairly rough, but the students get a charge out of it and realize not to take it too seriously. I wrote these two on the board and decided to share.

There once was a boy named Earl

He wanted so desperately to be a squirrel.

Allergic to nuts, his dream were dashed.

Distressed he wailed and his teeth he gnashed

That young fellow named Earl.

There once was a boy who loved basketball

Three-pointers were his downfall.

He went to shooting school

There he did rule

Today, he has fame and is in the Hall.

First Reader

We experienced a good day today. We are writing fractured fairy tales which are parodies of the originals. Students turn the story around and rewrite it with a twist. One student explained that the boy who cried wolf was visually impaired and was the victim of pranks by the sheep. Another student told the story of the Billy Goats Gruff through the eyes of the troll. Would you like it if someone were clacking around on your roof? The handsome prince dumps the beautiful princess for the maid in Rapunzel so someone did live happily ever after. The kids have fun with this activity and we talk about perspective. What if I were the Big Bad Wolf? We learn to understand that life is revealed through many eyes and experiences.

Billy Collins wrote this poem which I think expresses the way we learn and shape our learning. Occasionally, we need to let go, just be in the moment, and experience learning. I think we did that today.

I can see them standing politely on the wide pages
that I was still learning to turn,
Jane in a blue jumper, Dick with his crayon-brown hair,
playing with a ball or exploring the cosmos
of the backyard, unaware they are the first characters,
the boy and girl who begin fiction.

Beyond the simple illustrations of their neighborhood,
the other protagonists were waiting in a huddle:
frightening Heathcliff, frightened Pip, Nick Adams
carrying a fishing rod, Emma Bovary riding into Rouen.

But I would read about the perfect boy and his sister
even before I would read about Adam and Eve, garden and gate,
and before I heard the name Gutenberg, the type
of their simple talk was moving into my focusing eyes.

It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting,
“Look!” pointing at the dog, the bicycle, or at their father
as he pushed a hand mower over the lawn,
waving at aproned mother framed in the kitchen doorway,
pointing toward the sky, pointing at each other.

They wanted us to look but we had looked already
and seen the shaded lawn, the wagon, the postman.
We had seen the dog, walked, watered and fed the animal,
and now it was time to discover the infinite, clicking
permutations of the alphabet’s small and capital letters.
Alphabetical ourselves in the rows of classroom desks,
we were forgetting how to look, learning how to read.

Poem Against the First Grade

When I read this poem, I do so with care. George Venn wrote it in the voice of a six-year-old, but I can easily imagine anyone so excited about learning that they trip over their words and speak so fast words just run together. The poem reminded me of the way small children or a learner of any age, stops in mid-sentence and makes pronouncements in ways that do not always fit the conversation, but seem so right.

What a marvel when I do not worry about the need to be expert or proficient. I can just be in that moment a small child excited by the newness of my life.

Alex, my son, with backberry jam
smeared ear to ear and laughing,
rides his unbroken joy with words
so fast we let him get away
on the jamjar without clean cheeks first.

He spills frasasass
tea with milk and honey;
a red-chafted schlicker
beats our cottonwood drum.
Thumping the pano keys
like a mudpie chef,
he goes wild with words
at the wittle wooden
arms inside, a hundred
Pinoschios to singsong.
If he can’t wide byebye
bike to the candy store,
where he is Master Rich
with one penny, words turn
to tears in his mouf. Once
in a while, he walks home
with pum-pum-pumpernickel bread
his nose twitching so fast
a wabbit would love him.

Now this language is not taught in first grade.
Alicia, his tister, knows this fact.
But he juggles it around all day
until she makes him spit it out like
a catseye marble or a tack. “Ax,” she says,
“that’s not right.” She’s been among giants
who wipe off the dialect of backberry jam,
then pour hot wax on each bright mistake.

I hope for a bad seal on Ax and tister,
encourage the mold of joyous error
that proper sad giants, armed to the ears
with pencils and rules, all forgot.

Stone

I spent today catching up. Most of it was digital. It is interesting how much email built up, but I was productive today. This poem by Charles Simic spoke to me. Children wonder and hold the world in awe. Adults lose track of the beauty of mystery. I am not sure what next week holds. Perhaps, I will write poetry. Although I relied on the words of others, noted that many of these poets were new to me and that was transformative. I spent time wisely.

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.
I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

A Note

Well, I made it to the finish line this week and had a good day today. I ran out of steam after lunch, but afternoons have been kind this week. We are writing Fractured Fairy Tales and students get into this activity. I find opportunities to work 1-on-1 with students who need a little extra help. It is a great unit plan and can be modified for different ages.

Wislawa Szymborska wrote this poem. It fits with recent reflections about the extraordinary nature of ordinary life. My father-in-law, Bill, used to ask, “Who has more fun than people? More people do, of course!” I recalled his quirky, wise sayings as I read this poem. It is simple things, often overlooked, that give life its fullest meaning.

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes;

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

 

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