Poetry Friday: Taking My Son to His First Day of Kindergarten by William Trowbridge

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Carol at Carol’s Corner .

Packing up the house in which we’ve raised our children, I find tokens of their long past childhood everywhere: tucked in chests of drawers filled with old T-shirts from holiday trips and sports teams, at the bottom of closets along with still-muddy soccer cleats, and in boxes of old photographs labeled “to be organized into albums”.  The other day, I came across old school pictures, and was stopped in my tracks by this one in particular:


Mrs. Kaiser is my first-ever teaching mentor, and being a “mom-volunteer” in her classroom is the experience that set me forth on my own teaching life journey.  The little fellow directly below her (the one with his shirt half hanging out and his khakis already showing signs of playground frolic) is our Ben.
Unlike his sisters, who raced into every pre-school day with huge smiles of anticipation, Ben had started almost every pre-school day with tears and tantrums.  Of course, each teacher reported that he had settled in the moment I left, and he was always full of happy news when I picked him up…but, by the time he was ready for kindergarten, I was dreading that inevitably difficult send off on the first day, I was conditioned for it.
That morning, we had walked to school and watched from the sidewalk as Mrs. Kaiser stood by her classroom door to greet her A.M. class.  That afternoon, we returned again and took our place in the line outside her door.  The bell rang, Mrs. Kaiser stepped out, and I remember looking at Ben and seeing his face light up.  He could not wait for school to begin.
There were many school and college send offs in the years to come, but that one is my favorite.

Taking My Son to His First Day of Kindergarten by William Trowbridge 

As the eight o’clock bell spills
its racket into this mild September,
it is I, not he, who hesitates
in the clamor toward the open doors,
who spots the little ruffian throwing rocks
at the Trash-Master by the swings, 
who shyly searches for Room 106, 
where Miss Wynn waits with the name tags.
The halls still gust and flow 
with the rush of new dresses, the scent
of denim and sharpened pencils.
Eighth-graders arrange themselves
in groups to tower in their nonchalance,
eyeing each other like sprinters at the blocks.
Near 106, a bulletin board
declares “The Season of Changes”
above a paper grove of sugar maples.
He pulls me on, then runs ahead,
fearless, blameless, gone.

Poetry Friday: The Last Class by William Stafford

  Michelle Kogan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today.


Today, I will turn in my classroom key and my building pass, and leave the middle school which has been the heart and soul of my teaching life.  What lies ahead is somewhat clear: caring for my aging parents, bringing a farm back to life, writing the books that I have been wanting to write.

Today is the end of one path, and the beginning of another.  Even as I grieve for the turning, hearing (always) the call of the children I have loved and taught and learned alongside these many years, I know that the other path is the way now.  I have arrived at Frost’s diverging roads…I know where I must go.


Poetry Friday: Little Lesson on How to Be by Kathryn Nuernberger

The Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Karen Edmisten.

Yesterday, someone Tweeted out this excerpt from Langston Hughes:

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The daily news is too much to bear: too much evidence of how not to treat one another, to think, to live what is (in the grand scheme of things) a rather short time on this good, green Earth.

This evening, in search of poetry that reflected the world I’d like to live in, I found this:

Little Lesson on How to Be by Kathryn Nuernberger


The woman at the Salvation Army who sorts and prices is in her eighties
and she underestimates the value of everything, for which I am grateful.
Lightly used snow suits, size 2T, are $6 and snow boots are $3.
There is a little girl, maybe seven, fiddling with a tea set. Her mother
inspects drapes for stains.
Sometimes the very old and lonely are looking for an opening.
She glances up from her pricing and says something about the tea set
and a baby doll long ago.
I am careful not to make eye contact, but the mother with drapes has
such softness in her shoulders and her face and she knows how to say
the perfect kind thing—“What a wonderful mother you had.”
“Yes, she was.”
Why do children sometimes notice us and sometimes not?
From the bin of dolls: “What happened to your mother?”
“She died.”
The woman at the Salvation Army who sorts and prices is crying a little.
She seems surprised to be crying. “It’s been eighty years and I still miss
When my daughter was born I couldn’t stop thinking about how we
were going to die. If we were drowning, would it be better to hold her
to me even as she fought away or should I let her float off to wonder why
her mother didn’t help her? What if it’s fire and I have one bullet left? I
made sure my husband knew if there were death squads and he had to
choose, I’d never love him again if he didn’t choose her. If I’m lucky,
her crying face is the last thing I’ll see.
The mother with drapes is squeezing her daughter’s shoulder, trying to
send a silent message, but children are children. “Why did she die?”
“She was going to have a baby and—And she died.”
“But she was a wonderful mother.”
I’m holding a stack of four wooden jigsaw puzzles of farm animals,
dinosaurs, jungle animals, and pets. Each for a quarter.
“It’s silly how much I still miss her.” She takes out a tissue and wipes
her eyes and then her nose.
When my grandmother threw her sister, Susie, a 90th birthday party,
one hundred people came, including 5 of the 6 brothers and sisters. At
dusk only a few of us were left, nursing beers with our feet kicked up
on the bottom rungs of various walkers.
Susie said then to my grandmother, “Can you think of all the people
watching us in heaven now? And our mother must be in the front row.”
Grandma took her sister’s hand. “Our mother—Estelle.”
“Yes—her name was Estelle. I forgot that.”
They looked so happy then, saying her name back and forth to each
other. Estelle. Estelle.

Poetry Friday: Funeral Blues & The Trees

Poetry Friday is hosted by Margaret at Reflections on the Teche

Betwixt and between many worlds at the moment, I found this on Netflix:

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I have watched it many times already, and will no doubt watch it again and again.  Didion is fearless, whether she is examining war, the counter culture scene of Haight-Ashbery, or grief.  Personal grief – of the sort that comes about from losing one’s husband and only child in the space of two years.  Grief the likes of which I cannot even imagine.  And yet, there she is, speaking of it, writing of it, and living it…

The Joan Didion of today is front and center, even as the documentary slides back in time to earlier days through photographs and home movies.  It’s this juxtaposition that I found so moving, and so arresting: what was and what is, the way our lives change, the way we age.  Especially moving, I thought, was the way in which Didion uses the entire length of her arms and hands when she speaks. She gestures so extravagantly, so eloquently, even though those hands look so intensely blue veined and frail.

In the final section of documentary, Didion relives her grief.  Here, she is journalist and writer on the one hand, and wife and mother on the other.  Back and forth she seems to go: what is raw and what is observed, what is felt and what must be hidden, what she comes to understand about grieving and how her craft still calls upon her to name that grief:

“I tell you this true story just to prove that I can. That my frailty has not yet reached a point at which I can no longer tell a true story.”
― Joan Didion, Blue Nights

So, this Poetry Friday, I share two poems that seem to me express some of Didion’s polarity – a poem of grief in all its abandonment, and one that recognizes that life is always about renewal:

Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The Trees by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Poetry Friday: Hippocrene by Elizabeth Smith

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup

Packing up the house where one raised one’s children is a tricky business.  This is what I’m discovering as I delve into closets, under beds, and through stacks of papers my three children have left behind in their journey from childhood to independence.  School projects, English papers, love letters, knick knacks picked up on travels here and there…all the detritus of growing up and growing into the beautiful souls they are today.  Some things I open up and then put away quickly in boxes labeled for each of my three, these are their private detritus, which they can choose to keep or toss away as their private selves dictate.  Some things are just meant to be lingered over, revisited for the glimpses they provide for each child at some particular stage of their development.

Elizabeth’s AP English poetry project falls into this latter category.  I never saw these poems or this booklet in real time.  So, it was all the more meaningful to stumble upon it at this stage, the stage of packing up the home she grew up in.  On the eve of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share this relic of our past, where she pays homage to all the words we celebrated together when we lived together, and then creates something that is indelibly her own, as children are wont to do.

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Poetry Friday: Spring in the Classroom by Mary Oliver

Thanks to Irene at Live Your Poem for hosting Poetry Friday today.

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Spring has finally arrived with a vengeance, and we have been bathed in warm sunshine and Spring blossoms all week.  After weeks and weeks of  February-like gloom, it’s a joy to be able to glance out of our classroom windows and see blue skies and lovely cherry blossoms.   All that  Springtime beauty comes at a price, however, which is the immediate loss of my sixth graders’ attention spans.  They long to BE in all this Spring goodness, as in BE OUTSIDE in the midst of it.  I guess it’s time to turn to Mary Oliver’s wise poem about  what it’s like to be a student at the onset of Spring, so that I can turn back to my kiddos  and their book learning with a keener awareness of their suffering:

Spring in the Classroom
Elbows on dry books, we dreamed
Past Miss Willow Bangs, and lessons, and windows,
To catch all day glimpses and guesses of the greening woodlot,
Its secrets and increases,
Its hidden nests and kind.
And what warmed in us was no book-learning,
But the old mud blood murmuring,
Loosening like petals from bone sleep.
So spring surrounded the classroom, and we suffered to be kept indoors,
Droned through lessons, carved when we could with jackknives
Our pulsing initials into the desks, and grew
Angry to be held so, without pity and beyond reason,
By Miss Willow Bangs, her eyes two stones behind glass,
Her legs thick, her heart
In love with pencils and arithmetic.
So it went — one gorgeous day lost after another
While we sat like captives and breathed the chalky air
And the leaves thickened and birds called
From the edge of the world — till it grew easy to hate,
To plot mutiny, even murder. Oh, we had her in chains,
We had her hanged and cold, in our longing to be gone!
And then one day, Miss Willow Bangs, we saw you
As we ran wild in our three o’clock escape
Past the abandoned swings; you were leaning
All furry and blooming against the old brick wall
In the Art Teacher’s arms.
Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday: Two Set Out on Their Journey Galway Kinnell, 1927 – 2014

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When my children were young, it was rare to see them apart wherever we went and whatever we did.  No matter where we moved (and we moved a lot), or where we traveled (and we traveled a lot, too), the three of them kept themselves amused and happy with elaborate games and story lines of the “to be continued” variety.

Even in the throes of cranky adolescence, they turned more often to each other than away from each other – allies, always, against unreasonable and unimaginative parents.

These days, they have each other on speed dial, and since they all live in various parts of Brooklyn, they see each other with some frequency.

Of the many blessings my husband and I count ourselves lucky for having, is this: the bond between our three, on a journey of “ten thousand acts” :

Two Set Out on Their Journey  –   Galway Kinnell

We sit side by side,
brother and sister, and read
the book of what will be, while a breeze
blows the pages over—
desolate odd, cheerful even,
and otherwise. When we come
to our own story, the happy beginning,
the ending we don’t know yet,
the ten thousand acts
encumbering the days between,
we will read every page of it.
If an ancestor has pressed
a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden
between pages of the slow going,
where only those who adore the story
ever read. When the time comes
to shut the book and set out,
we will take childhood’s laughter
as far as we can into the days to come,
until another laughter sounds back
from the place where our next bodies
will have risen and will be telling
tales of what seemed deadly serious once,
offering to us oldening wayfarers
the light heart, now made of time
and sorrow, that we started with.