Total Pageviews

Monday, February 20, 2017

Testing Season

I love what I do. Kids are great, interesting, weird, They are filled with potential. Every day is new, Honestly, if I made a little more money and had a lot more respect, I would probably do this forever. In my class, we are at the end of a writing process so we are having our open mic - I bring cocoa and the kids read their work. Maybe for the first time they get hooked on the real thing about writing, which is communication. Telling your truth to someone else. Being heard.

Right now, despite the joy, I am discouraged. I worry that our push for test scores ignores the humans we are charged to educate. My hubby can attest to the fact that in most weeks there is a time when I am discouraged, overwhelmed and feeling like I might drown. Here, in testing season, tempers are short, patience is stretched and I wonder if what we teachers do is worthwhile.


At every turn, there is a wall or worse
a task, given by someone, and didn’t you know
that you had neglected to attend to it properly, because there were rules.
And I -s that needed dotting
that you should have already known about, didn’t you already know? Slacker,
Where is your checkpoint, lesson plan, data analysis? Formative
assessment, lesson modification, standard focus, learning goal? Did you complete
the reading inventory, failure predictions,meeting notes?

the architecture of citizenship. 12-year-olds defend their heart-held beliefs
out loud and in letters and essays and poetry. Memes and
jokes and quotes arrive via student gmail. Dreams
eked out in doorway greetings.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lemonade from Lemons, Hay While the Sun Shines, and Cups Half-Full

Cups definitely more than half full.
Beignets and Cafe in New Orleans
My summer winds down, a little more quickly than I might have hoped for (I know I just composed a post about loving summer!). Kids don't start back to school for another month, but I have a string of training to attend. It is all paid for by virtue of a grant, which is wonderful, because contrary to popular belief teachers do not get 'paid for doing nothing' in the summer. What we get is nine and a half months of pay stretched out over twelve months. You all know teachers teach for the love and passion of it- not because we are lazy and want summers off or because we can't do anything else. But I digress...

Just Before

There is this tremor, this
last gasp of the darkness where everything, even
the warmth leaks out. All that is left is crisp,
empty chill that tells no tales of the past
and gives the future no succor.

You might feel that it is the beginning of the end -
and yet it is all harbinger and no horror.

Just before the sky turns pink.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summertime... and the livin' is easy.

As a teacher I am in the privileged position of being eternally young - at least that is how it looks from the vantage of a long vacation. I used to suffer from the sudden lack of something to do when summer began. Sort of a post-work depression and emptiness. As I get older and time speeds up I have let go of that! Make hay while the sun shines as they say.

And so, with a nod to Raymond Carver...


Looking at my tabulations
I feel good. I have a life
of the mind and people
to love. I cook kick-ass food
and take joy in libraries(free fuckin books, ones I never
before read!). I am in love with this striped
shirt from Goodwill fer cheap. And while

cockroaches and clutter gotta go - my bile
does not rise as I gaze out
across the vista of spring break, early
mornings do not loom large and I
know I will have time
to clear

the rotting veg from the fridge -
and wipe clean the names of my nemesi(s).

Childhood and summer go together. In many essential ways I am still that exact same child. Summer is for childhood and swimming and skinned knees.

My son Forest and our friend Erin Graham 'sledding' a dirt hill

A Bruise

The shinscrapes of my youth
were beloved. Picked over until
they became something worth looking
at - a thin white line - surrounded
by golden, dirt-smudged skin, criss-crossed
by bruises and abrasions.

I flew
through those summers. Skimming
the hills -
brown, foot-worn trails through green,
glossy salal, frothy huckleberry, shadowed
by straight ever green.

Hard rubber wheels on cracked driveways.
A bruise was a badge.
Fresh scabs told a story.
Road rash was to be envied.

P.S. Here is a link to read Raymond Carver's poem Gravy.
Does anything say summer quite like a full-grown man in a kiddie-pool? (Jeff Hoyle)
Well, maybe a small child pouring beer on the
head of an unsuspecting harmonica player.
(Doug MacKenzie)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Anarchist Dictator

"If I were the impossible anarchist dictator, every freight train would be required to have a passenger car, with no attendants, so anyone could hop on anywhere and ride for free at their own risk."     - Ran Prieur

I have been a teacher for ten years now, something I never thought to be. I hated school. Truly hated it. I had the second lowest GPA in my junior class. I think that was the year I couldn't even make myself go in and register for classes during the summer because the sound of the bell grated on my sensibilities.

My ideal world did not include desks, and more importantly, being told what to learn and how to learn it. I believed then, and still do, that kids want to learn. They are interested in their world; they explore and discover naturally. Now, for ten months out of the year I arrange desks and I arrange learning. I tell kids what they need to learn AND how they need to learn it.


I used to rebel-
before these days of cognitive dissonance. I thought
I knew

but now the me that reminds
students to take their seats - repeatedly -
is in discord with the rest of me. I am this impossible thing -
this anarchist dictator. I rise up
to embody 

what I am not. Rebelling
with one hand and squelching uprisings
with the other. It is easy
to see how Castro got that way.

(Thank you to my brilliant and dear friend Aimee Day for the quote and the inspiration.)

The Angels: Patty Damon- 7th grade Science, DeAnn Broom- Texas History,
and Me - Readin' and Writin'

On the other hand, I know some things about kids that I didn't back when I was a kid. I know that they need structure to learn in groups. I know that they need warriors to fight for them. They need adults who are willing to battle with them and for them. That willingness to fight for their education is how they know I care.

I also know that kids who have to deal with the effects of poverty need to have higher expectations set, not lower. If you start out in life behind the curve you have to run faster and longer to get where you want to go. Educators who make excuses for kids are doing them a disservice.

It is a impossible to sustain the level of outrage and fight needed on your own, especially given the pressures of modern education: testing, funding, bureaucracy, cruelty, group-think, inequity, disinterest... 

Dear Student,

I want to borrow a quart of outrage
to use when I cannot find it in myself to
stick up for you yet again, when they say
you don't have the support, or the will, they say -

I need a soupcon of courage to tell you
that you are worth the struggle and that
if you don't pull your head out of your ass
and start acting older than your age, you will never
read above a third grade level.

I need to borrow will - because I have lost mine
in paperwork and sad eyes and your anger - and it might as well be yours -
because mine was never enough for the both of us.

Can you loan me a spine, I need it so I can smile at you
as you walk through my door and I will try to convince you that whatever it is
you are running from will always nip at your heels
until you turn and face it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dead Young

I am struggling right now with the death of my nephew. He was my first nephew; born when I was 10 years old. I was the youngest in my family, so when he was born it was my first chance to have a baby to love.  Derek grew up some; he was 31.

I feel the distance between my family and myself more sharply than usual. I am so glad they are together right now, but I miss them. I miss Derek. Selfishly, and without reason - I miss him.

I don't have any art about this yet. There are no words.  Derek was a bright spark... He was complicated- and beautiful.

Derek and I when we were younger...

Two years ago our neighbor died. My husband has a knack for befriending. He and Bill became close over the last year or two Bill was alive. Bill, like all of us, was lovable but not easy to love.

My Neighbor

He liked to flirt with me…
I’d rather give this cabinet to you than sell
Bill, with Joe and Georgia before our trip
it to a bunch of Mexicans. he’d say, My neighbor, he’s  a faggot,
but a helluva nice guy. Good

Bill had both hands gripped tight
to the wheel of the ‘89 Corvette
that he waxed two weeks
before. Thin, caved in chest –
out there in shorts, arms
moving in circles – making
her shine.

Sitting in his camp chair-
watching birds eat crumbs, sores
seeping – eyes and nose running. Slowly
smoking that Winston – bitter ash. Ruminating,
family won’t return his calls. Brother
won’t start his Corvette. He worries
about the battery.

His mom, Georgia, keeps him with her. She buys
him his favorite foods
He scared her when he was young.
Smoked pot and drank. Sold drugs –
one time she found a big black garbage bag
full of weed and –good Texas mama that she is-
threw it out. When he got home he came at her
like he was going to hit her
before running out the door. He didn’t
come back - except for his first wedding-
until Diabetes lost him his job
at the casino.

When Georgia shows me the picture
of the wedding she wonders why he kept
the framed photo of him looking 70’s
handsome with Georgia’s second husband
who he hated standing a little too close
behind him like he was holding a knife to his back.

Now he is kept…. by her. Out of love – but he
is 46- and living at home.

How should we mourn
this man. He walked
without a cane on brittle
legs falling over and again
he couldn’t allow the help he needed,
until gracefully and
without warning he would accept Joe’s arm
as he walked up the steep driveway.

Joe and I sitting next to him in his garage
watching the slow drift
as he falls asleep sitting up with the cigarette
and coffee still in his hand. At the last possible moment
Joe reaches out and touches his chest to keep him
from falling over. you’re so good to me Bill said smiling-

Joe visits him nearly every day,
on good days they talk cars, bikes, music. Joe
knows that Bill needs to be what he always
has been,
A man- a cussing spitting fast-car driving
hard-drinking man with time
to get soft and misty eyed

One morning, Bill is crying
and listening to the songs on the Sunday morning

Amazing Grace and a country
number about walking through a graveyard.
His crackling high
voice joining in, whispering then dropping away to nothing
while tears ran down his face
like he was a mourner
at his own Memorial. The one he forbids
us to have.

Now Joe and I sit vigil, in our garage
two doors down from Georgia’s. In folding
camp chairs, smoking cigarettes and trying
to dislodge our resentments, the ones
we haven’t managed to work into pearls yet.
Not wanting to end like Bill but also
wanting to snatch back for him what he couldn't get.

Two months later, Bill’s brother Bud rings
our doorbell. He has a gift bag in his hands. He says
It is from Bill. He bought it for you guys back when he
was watching your cats. Wow, I said
stupidly, It’s not every day you get presents from the dead.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Relationship with a Capital R

The ironic thing about the Relationship (with a capital R) is that it is the place where you are most likely to run up against your own limitations. No fair! Our culture sells romantic love as a kind of panacea for the aloneness that is inherent to the human condition. Maybe it is partially that, but its essential nature less straightforward.

It is in relationship that we see the exact ways that we are alone. This first poem is about the disillusionment that happens when you realize love - as you have known it so far - might not be enough.

Your Heart

When you give your
You pretend it beats
vibrant and full of blood- You say
take this, it will be a worthy companion
to you. Then little by little the hollowness
and the cracks are exposed
The way the thing skips a beat.
You patch it up Move along, nothing
to see here.
Then one day
broken crumpled moth wings
daub - stick, mud tape
The crowds gather stand around and gawk at the thing
wondering if it will ever fulfill its former promise.

Sometimes you wish for something less - no matter how flawed it might be. You want to know that you are separate, even from those you love. 

In My Daylight

In the thick dark
of the front seat
of his dented Volvo
parked on a dry
nighttime riverbed
wrapped in Leonard Cohen’s voice

beside a man
I’ll never know
well. Talking
the kids
from the Elwha tribe
used to pull pranks
on that bridge. They would
make dummies that looked
real and  throw them
into the middle
of the narrow bridge
under front wheels, screeching
to a halt and almost
through that guardrail

one time.
I will never read
him in the dark. It will
be over after
our first fight. In the dark
of the places he grew
up, I am not required,
to fill any holes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I have a relationship with the moon...


Lying in the back seat of the car. Watching the moon stand still while the rest of the scenery rushed by.

Other Night Lights

My dad (who always carried me in
 from the car even if I was fake-sleeping)
 and me on a road trip to Cali.

Driving highways late
at night sitting low in the back
seat. The slow arc of a spot-
light in the sky. Searching
for something really important – 
alien life or missing children. I didn't realize for
years that it might be prosaic. A huge
sale at a used car lot or the opening
of a new supermarket. Really, it was about
the beam slicing like a light saber
in slo mo. Me low in the back
seat, imagining infinity.


It is a hippie infestation...
When I was a teenager my friends and I held Full Moon Festivals. As a result the moon became our communion, our gathering point. We were a family; we frolicked, we watched the moon rise and set. Often we would still be there at dawn. I lived at the edge of the Puget Sound. The connection between the moon and the tides is science at its most magical.  Our low-lying driveway would flood with the highest of the tides. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent - happy, angry, thoughtful - at the beach.


I am going to the water
don’t follow me.

Lifting the hatch and riding
the current, you might see the other
side of madness – fishes and loaves
and crystalline shards of goblets ground
between our teeth melting
to slink between my toes. Where
they came from.

I am going to the water don’t
follow me.

In the foam my toes feel the earth
move beneath me standing at
the center of stillness. All of the turns
I have ever taken are putty
in foreign hands. Tiny sillicates drift
glistening from side to side, looking
for home. But not homing. What you
think I might be I have never been.

Through every ripple I will
hold you. I am going
to the water
do not follow me.


My relationship with the moon has become complicated, as is true for most things in adult life. Now that I live in a city I sometimes go months without noticing the moon. When we lived in New Mexico the moon was very present. The moon is both the upsurge of passion and the constancy of the tides. In this month of the blue moon - I want to call forth the passion.


Stand with me in this tilting lot
wet black cement of the just rained.
The sky is orange to the east and
deep purple to the west. Look up
at the trees and wires filled
with mewling Grackles. Barbed
wire against the darkening sky. The air
chill and damp; I wrap

The way the dark birds move together
squid ink sprayed across
the water. And the sound – Alien
earthy whispered screams.

We won’t go inside for ice cream. We
shouldn’t be placated by creamy sweetness. Stand here
with me. Rub the rosemary between your fingers. Look
back over your shoulder. It is just enough to be dangerous.