Archive for March, 2008

Randy Driver: an apology

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I can still picture your writing
so poorly formed and hard to read
I see that handwriting and I see you
a special young man who needed so much more
than my English class
for what did I ever do for you
what was I capable of doing for you
except for asking you to try again

Randy, it may be 30 years too late
but I think I understand . . .
oh, for a pile of your papers now
packed with line upon line of so many difficult words
scratched in such a human hand, a struggling hand
those words are precious to me now

and if I could do it all over again
I would draw everyone’s attention to your papers
and say, “These words were produced by Randy;
they’re special words because he wrote them.
I can tell A words when I see them
and these are A words.

Thank you, Randy.”

the business of study halls

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

during my first semester of teaching
I was assigned a study hall in the cafeteria
during the last period of the day, no less

think of dust motes and stale air,
think of antsy adolescents,
think of everyone juiced for the end of the day

there must have been 90 students
in that hornets’ nest

I did my best to keep everyone seated,
getting them to remain quiet . . .
well, that wasn’t going to happen,
at least not for very long

students who wanted a little quiet time,
who just needed some space,
were out of luck
unless they had library passes

how I put up with the study hall for five months
I’ll never know
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

as some critics see it,
American schools do one thing well:
they turn kids into obedient soldiers
who willingly follow schedules,
sit in rows, and stand in lines

for better or for worse, I did my part
by maintaining an orderly classroom,
but that first study hall was way beyond
what I could handle

for that assignment,
a battle-tested veteran was needed,
someone with a lot of combat duty,
someone who could take command
and see that the troops obeyed orders,
even in an extremely hostile setting

Lloyd Payne

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

sure Lloyd works to hard

you think he’d give up the farm,
it bein’ only him and his wife.
he makes plenty up at the school
with the janitor work.

made sense to have the farm
when the kids were home.
when all nine of ‘em pulled up a chair,
they went through a lot of food.

those kids worked for their keep, too.
could be colder than billy hell
and they’d be doin’ somethin’ around the place.

when Lloyd took in the two Schneider boys,
I thought he’d have himself a mess of trouble.
danged if they didn’t work hard as his own.

kids all growed up, got good jobs,
and you can bet your next paycheck
they’re good workers, too.
most of ‘em got families now.

wife of one of the boys ran off
and left him with five little ones.
Lloyd’s always sendin’ him boxes of food.

Lloyd lost a little of his spit
when his youngest got killed in an accident.
he was just like Lloyd, hard as nails.

seen his wife when they was out for fish.
she’s really havin’ trouble gettin’ around,
all gnarled up by arthritis.

she worked as hard as Lloyd at one time.
wasn’t nothin’ for her to put up 700 jars.
now, don’t look like she can do much of anything.

but ol’ Lloyd . . .
I could hear the te-poc-a-ta, te-poc-a-ta
of his old tractor late last night
so I know he was working a field.
he just don’t stop.

Richard Bach: our Polonius

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

you usually came on stage
during the stillness of “after school”
armed with a wide dust mop

of course, the mop was only a prop,
part of the cover for your main role
as eavesdropper, gathering information
in the nooks and crannies of school life

the bits of gossip you shared with me
were often critical, occasionally mean-spirited,
and I was under the impression
you were just putting in your time,
counting the days before you could retire

so needless to say, I was surprised to hear
you had volunteered to work with a wild-eyed student,
someone most teachers called incorrigible,
and from all reports, things went quite well
for you and Jerry
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

that action seemed so out of character
for a “tedious old fool” like you . . .

I’m wondering if all the negativity and bitterness
was simply part of your ruse, your dodge,
giving you the freedom to respond to circumstances
as you saw fit–in your own way and on your own terms

Paul Sims: dimming moments

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Luke Skywalker
burst into my classroom,
slapped his well-worn space book
onto the nearest desk top,
and started talking about Chewbacca,
Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi
to anyone who would listen.
He bubbled with adventures to share.

In a few minutes
the first bell for the fall semester
would cut short Luke’s report
and set in motion the mind-numbing school-day routine–
a seven hour regimen of nonstop classroom activities.
For the next nine months
Luke would find few opportunities
for any new space adventures,
for trips to other countries,
for journeys up the Congo River.

Jack Clapham

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

you were my permanent guest,
occasionally interested in small talk
before the start of class

you were my man-child,
wearing little, old-fashioned shirts
and cheap, little pressed pants

you were my artful dodger,
managing to stay clear
of any real effort or interest,
never once breaking a mental sweat

and you were one of my undesirables,
curing in a dull coat of grime,
grinnning those nasty green teeth

I tried to keep my distance,
like most everyone else,
which, of course,
allowed you to spin your cocoon
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I doubt that you ever finished school,
or picked up any skills,
or ever cared to

and I’ll bet you’re still keeping things
as duty free as possible–
maybe you’re clerking in a store somewhere,
sitting on a stool, insolated in a glass cubicle

a little neon life, easy, mindless,
pretty much like things used to be
hanging around my classroom

Martina Last: applied linguistics

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

try voice /ng/
grooved fricatives
–lacylazy fussfuzz–
for the class
when two students
are talk /ng/.

or try
front /ng/
mid and low
–hemham deftdraft–
while they giggle.

/shud/ take
learning our language

had to tell them
to shut their
bilabial /z/.

Charlie Strong: straight tables

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

don’t let my stone face,
my shufflin’ up and down
the rows in the cafeteria,
fool you.
I’m not bitter or broken.

and don’t mind that I stop
at every table left crooked
and take such care to make it straight.

this ain’t some kind of punishment
for a mess up I made earlier.

and my periods of row walkin’,
my stoopin’ and eyein’ up tables,
ain’t for the sake of any principle.

I’m not a reminder
to the boys and girls
that some in the world
are still pickin’ cotton.

these kids don’t think that way,
they’re too young.
but they sure don’t much care
for tables like I do.

the fact is that
I’m just doin’ my job,
and I’ve been row walkin’ for so long
that now I got a voice inside sayin’:

“Don’t be satisfied till you got straight tables.”