Poems...honoring those who prepare us for life beyond the classroom
“I have come to
believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as
few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest
of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
BY BILLY COLLINS
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.
And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.
But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.
What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.
Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And what’s an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point I’m lost. I need help.
The other thing that throws me off,
and maybe this is just me,
is the way the scene keeps shifting around.
First, we’re in this big aerodrome
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles,
which makes me think this could be a dream.
Then he takes us into his garden,
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose,
though that’s nice, the coiling hose,
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be.
The rain and the mint green light,
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper?
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery?
There’s something about death going on here.
In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here
is really two poems, or three, or four,
or possibly none.
But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse.
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before,
but I still love the details he uses
when he’s describing where he lives.
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard,
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can,
the spool of thread for a table.
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work
night after night collecting all these things
while the people in the house were fast asleep,
and that gives me a very strong feeling,
a very powerful sense of something.
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that.
Maybe that was just me.
Maybe that’s just the way I read it.
BY LUCIA PERILLO
The professor stabbed his chest with his hands curled like forks
before coughing up the question
that had dogged him since he first read Emerson:
Why am I “I”? Like musk oxen we hunkered
while his lecture drifted against us like snow.
If we could, we would have turned our backs into the wind.
I felt bad about his class’s being such a snoozefest, though peaceful too,
a quiet little interlude from everyone outside
rooting up the corpse of literature
for being too Caucasian. There was a simple answer
to my own question (how come no one loved me,
stomping on the pedals of my little bicycle):
I was insufferable. So, too, was Emerson I bet,
though I liked If the red slayer think he slays—
the professor drew a giant eyeball to depict the Over-soul.
Then he read a chapter from his own book:
He didn’t care if our heads tipped forward on their stalks.
When spring came, he even threw us a picnic in his yard
where dogwood bloomed despite a few last
dirty bergs of snow. He was a wounded animal
being chased across the tundra by those wolves,
the postmodernists. At any moment
you expected to see blood come dripping through his clothes.
And I am I who never understood his question,
though he let me climb to take a seat
aboard the wooden scow he’d been building in the shade
of thirty-odd years. How I ever rowed it
from his yard, into my life—remains a mystery.
The work is hard because the eyeball’s heavy, riding in the bow.
Poem for Christian, My Student
BY GAIL MAZUR
He reminds me of someone I used to know,
but who? Before class,
he comes to my office to shmooze,
a thousand thousand pointless interesting
speculations. Irrepressible boy,
his assignments are rarely completed,
or actually started. This week, instead
of research in the stacks, he’s performing
with a reggae band that didn’t exist last week.
Kids danced to his music
and stripped, he tells me gleefully,
high spirit of the street festival.
He’s the singer, of course—
why ask if he studied an instrument?
On the brink of graduating with
an engineering degree (not, it turned out,
his forte), he switched to English,
his second language. It’s hard to swallow
the bravura of his academic escapes
or tell if the dark eyes laugh with his face.
Once, he brought me a tiny persimmon
he’d picked on campus; once, a poem
about an elderly friend in New Delhi
who left him volumes of Tagore
and memories of avuncular conversation.
My encouragement makes him skittish—
it doesn’t suit his jubilant histrionics
of despair. And I remember myself
shrinking from enthusiasm or praise,
the prospect of effort-drudgery.
Success—a threat. A future, we figure,
of revision—yet what can the future be
but revision and repair? Now, on the brink
again, graduation’s postponed, the brilliant
thesis on Walker Percy unwritten.
“I’ll drive to New Orleans and soak
it up and write my paper in a weekend,”
he announces in the Honors office.
And, “I want to be a bum in daytime
and a reggae star at night!”
What could I give him from my life
or art that matters, how share
the desperate slumber of my early years,
the flashes of inspiration and passion
in a life on hold? If I didn’t fool
myself or anyone, no one could touch
me, or tell me much . . . This gloomy
Houston Monday, he appears at my door,
so sunny I wouldn’t dare to wake him
now, or say it matters if he wakes at all.
“Write a poem about me!” he commands,
and so I do
Telling the Teacher
by Raymond A. Foss
A family story
of my need for a mommy
and a teacher, to be distinct
and separate from one another
Talking with my mommy
all the way to church
in the ride from home
Telling my Sunday School teacher
all about my week
as if she hadn’t been there too
by Roger McGough
Chaos ruled OK in the classroom
as bravely the teacher walked in
the nooligans ignored him
hid voice was lost in the din
"The theme for today is violence
and homework will be set
I'm going to teach you a lesson
one that you'll never forget"
He picked on a boy who was shouting
and throttled him then and there
then garrotted the girl behind him
(the one with grotty hair)
Then sword in hand he hacked his way
between the chattering rows
"First come, first severed" he declared
"fingers, feet or toes"
He threw the sword at a latecomer
it struck with deadly aim
then pulling out a shotgun
he continued with his game
The first blast cleared the backrow
(where those who skive hang out)
they collapsed like rubber dinghies
when the plug's pulled out
"Please may I leave the room sir?"
a trembling vandal enquired
"Of course you may" said teacher
put the gun to his temple and fired
The Head popped a head round the doorway
to see why a din was being made
then tossed in a grenade
And when the ammo was well spent
with blood on every chair
Silence shuffled forward
with its hands up in the air
The teacher surveyed the carnage
the dying and the dead
He waggled a finger severely
"Now let that be a lesson" he said
Don't Want To Say Goodbye
By Asha Cook
I remember the times when you were there for me.
Through my many tears you helped me really see
that you were always there for me.
You stood close to me like a friend, there for me
until the end.
I will never forget you and the things
you helped me through.
My inspiration is you.
You were always there when I needed you.
I now will always have great memories of you
You would ask me, "How are you doing?"
I would say I'm fine
as tears start to form in my eyes .
You always knew that I was really not fine.
You are someone I want to be like.
I found out who that person is; that person is you.
I hope that you remember me through your days.
You have touched my heart in so many ways.
I look up to you and I see a ray of sunshine
shining in on me.
I knew God sent me one of his angels
when he sent you to me.
You help me through it all,
coming to save me every time I fall.
If I could say one word, that wouldn't
tell it all.
I am so happy to have you with me.
You helped me to really see what I couldn't see.
You helped me to find the real me.
You turned me into the beautiful person
I was meant to be.
If I say goodbye to you, I will just fall apart
because you have always been in my heart.
I don't want to lose you.
You care about me and I care about you too.
I remember the day I first met you and you met me.
It was like it was really meant to be.
You are someone I hold close to my heart.
There I know that we will never be apart
by Amelia Jane
Remember when we met
When I was just a kid?
And you said to me,
"It's okay, we're all friends here."
And treated me like a normal kid.
Well even if you don't,
Thank you, as you now mean the world to me.
Remember when I first cried in front of you
When times were tough for me?
And you said to me,
"It's okay, I'm here."
And it all seemed a little better.
Well even if it's slipped your mind,
It made me who I am today.
Remember when you fell apart?
You couldn't cope without your Dad.
And I said to you,
"It's okay, I'm here for you."
And you put back up your mask
Because it had slipped that day and I saw
The real you, scared and hiding.
Remember when I left you
To move on to my next stage?
And you said to me,
"I'll always be here for you."
And we hugged and talked for hours.
You wanted me to chase my dreams
And helped me through my fear.
Remember when I became you
And you took to the sidelines?
And I said to you,
"I'm here to carry on."
And you watched like a proud parent
As I took my first steps?
Now it's me remembering you
As you lie in the ground.
I'll always remember your calming voice
And be grateful for what I found.