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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Monday Memories: “The Good Old Days”

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As my teaching life winds down, I find myself delving into the reams of student writing that I’ve collected through the years.  Many of these students are now out in the great wide world, living lives far removed from the twelve year old selves they once were in Room 202, but their twelve year old writing lives on in the form of scraps of paper and Google folders I have saved.  I am so grateful for these – they are tangible reminders of all the young people I have had the pleasure of working with, all the young writers I endeavored to fill with the writing spirit.

Some writing ideas sparked more interest  than others, and some revealed aspects of my kiddos which I was not privy to in the context of our classroom life.  I loved these the best, of course, and can’t count the number of hours I spent thinking of new ways to nudge my young writers this way and that.  Ultimately, what I really hoped for was that my kids came to see writing as something that was worthy of doing on their own, for themselves.  After all, that was what I had discovered about writing for myself, far away from the confining strictures of a long line of English teachers.  I found my writing voice on my own, and for myself.   And deep down, in spite of all the mini lessons I labored over to craft and deliver, I knew that my kiddos would only learn that lesson  if  I gave them freedom and an authentic venue that allowed for some nudging and shaping from me, their guide to a writing life.  Enter our Slice of Life writing: a writing blog (Google Classroom in our case) – once a week, sometimes free choice and sometimes driven by a prompt of some sort, always open to a supportive community of responders: our fellow classmates.

Today, scrolling through an old set of Slice of Life writing,  I chanced upon one centered around the phrase “the good old days”.  If memory serves me right, one student began talking about ” the  good old days” back in elementary school when life was full of fun and sweetness (also, no homework), which began a litany of similarly themed “good old days”, and which became our SOL writing for the week and took on the form of a poem.  I have a feeling there was a poem like this which served as a mentor text idea, but I can’t seem to remember what it was.  Here are a few of my kids’ versions, which bring me close to tears:

The Good Old Days by Mia

Sometimes I remember
the good old days,
when the weather was nice
and the sun was blazing hot.

I would ride my bike
to the pool,
to camp
and everywhere else.

And I didn’t think about anything else
except for the crisp breeze, cool water
and jumping into the frigid pool.
Playing with my friends
in the lush green grass
and laughing and having so much fun.

I still can’t imagine
anything better than that.


The Good Old Days by Shelley

Sometimes I remember
the good old days,
sitting at the kitchen table,
surrounded by my family,
drawing and painting with such concentration,
that my tongue stuck out.

My dad would notice, laugh,
then tell my mom.
Later I would pick my head up from my picture,
only to notice my family grinning at me.

I still can’t imagine
anything better than that.
The Good Old Days by Alexander
Sometimes I remember
the good old days,
jumping through the sprinkler on summer afternoons
my brother and I,
the sun beating down,
its powerful rays, stinging our skin,
and the water cooling us off,
cold and smooth,
like  water thrown over a fire.
The soft wet grass
soothed our feet
like a massage.
I felt so happy and free,
….free as a bird,

I want good new days,
like these
good old days.

The Good Old Days by Lauren
Sometimes I remember
the good old days,
sitting around the fireplace
On a cold, winter night.
Roasting a marshmallow
on a single wooden stick,
surrounded by friends, family.
The one’s I love.

My only stressful event
Was when the marshmallow,
just burned away.
I had no worries, then,
of schoolwork,

                                               school shootings,
                                                                               mean “friends”.
Just sitting peacefully,
with rose-red cheeks.

But that was then,
and this is now.

The Good Old Days by Gavin

Sometimes I remember
“The Good Old Days”.

In the depth of a frigid winter night,
warmed and comforted by the crackle of a fire,
with a blanket,

She would come downstairs soon enough,
and I would be there.
She would  sit next to me on the sofa,
and I would eagerly sink into her soft embrace.
She carried a book, a surprise of magical words,
in the nook of her arm.

Then…she would start to read,
and I would soak up every word
and anticipate the next one…

My Mom and I would get lost in other people’s stories,
we would lose track of time and place.
I loved every second of our warm, full adventures,
on those cold, cold nights.

I still can’t imagine
anything better than that.
I still can’t remember
Anything better than that.

These are stories that seem to carry so much more weight in hindsight.  I am all the more conscious of how aware my kids were, at twelve, that childhood is fleeting, and innocence is subject to loss.  They were wise, at twelve, and I learned so much from their twelve year old wisdom.

Poetry Friday: A Picture of the House at Beit Jala by Ghassan Zaqtan

Poetry Friday is hosted by hosted by Lisa at Steps and Staircases.

Today’s poem is in response to Trump’s action on Wednesday – recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  So much for peace in the Middle East, so much for the Palestinians and their Palestine, so much for justice and the hope of freedom.


        A Picture of the House at Beit Jala by Ghassan Zaqtan

He has to return to shut that window,
it isn’t entirely clear
whether this is what he must do,
things are no longer clear
since he lost them,
and it seems a hole somewhere within him
has opened up

Filling in the cracks has exhausted him
mending the fences
wiping the glass
cleaning the edges
and watching the dust that seems, since he lost them,
to lure his memories into hoax and ruse.
From here his childhood appears as if it were a trick!
Inspecting the doors has fully exhausted him
the window latches
the condition of the plants
and wiping the dust
that has not ceased flowing
into the rooms, on the beds, sheets, pots
and on the picture frames on the walls

Since he lost them he stays with friends
who become fewer
sleeps in their beds
that become narrower
while the dust gnaws at his memories “there”
. . . he must return to shut that window
the upper story window which he often forgets
at the end of the stairway that leads to the roof

Since he lost them
he aimlessly walks
and the day’s small
purposes are also no longer clear.

translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah


Poetry Friday:at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989 by Lucille Clifton

Jone is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up today at Check It Out.

Among the podcasts I love most is the one one Ira Glass has been hosting for many years now: This American Life.  This week’s episode was about Afrofuturism, which really struck a nerve for two reasons: first, the events and mood in our country at the moment, and second, because I teach American history.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this particular podcast, here’s the summary and a link:

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One section of “We are in the future” has haunted me ever since I listened to it, this one about being a “slave re-enactor” at Mount Vernon:

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The social studies curriculum I cover for my sixth graders runs covers the years between the American Revolution through the Civil War: the nation is founded, it expands, and it almost self destructs.  We trace the idea of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” all the through the events of the years we study, trying to sift through who was permitted “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, and at who was not.  I think it is imperative for my students to understand that racial inequality was baked into our earliest laws, and that we need to acknowledge this if we are ever to move towards being a country that truly lives the lofty words of our Declaration of Independence.

We spend an entire unit studying the history of slavery in America before we get to the Civil War, in the course of which I always have a handful of students who have been to Mount Vernon, Williamsburg, or Monticello and are truly puzzled by the difference in what they are learning in class compared to what they saw and heard when they toured these sites.  “All the slaves looked so happy there”, “their homes looked so nice”, “they were wearing nice stuff”, they remark, but clearly (based on what we were reading and seeing in class) this was not so…this was not true.  Why???  And the answers to that why? would lead to discussions about who we are today, and why we as a nation still struggle with that original sin: slavery.  (This  is a wonderful article about the difference between real history and tour guide history.)

Azie Dungey’s experiences as a re-enactor at Mount Vernon brought me back to those conversations in our classroom, and to this Lucille Clifton poem (which we read and talk about in our class during our slavery unit):


at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989
by Lucille Clifton

among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names.

nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your fingerprints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.

tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify.

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were 

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of these honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies

In an interview with Bill Moyers, This is how Clifton described how the poem came to be written:

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Well, let me tell you what happened with that poem. I went to Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina in 1989 and I was the only person of color on the tour.  It’s wonderful  2,000 acres, but on the tour there was no mention of slaves. And  they have the the original furniture. They had all the stuff and they talked about the difficulty of the work, a family, a small family, no mention of slavery…So I asked,  “Why didn’t you mention slaves?” The first answer was,  “Maybe the guide didn’t want to embarrass you.” “Well,” I said, “I’m not a slave. I don’t know why he would think I’d be that embarrassed.” Then I asked again, and the answer of, “Maybe they didn’t have any.” Well, they had two thousand acres in South Carolina in the early part of the nineteenth century. Be serious!

When I suggested that the guide check the inventory, because slaves were considered property and were often inventoried,  they discovered that the plantation had an inventory of ten slaves, but they might have had more because they didn’t recognize women. And, well, I had to write about that. I mean some things say, “Hey, write me.”

You see, we cannot ignore history. History doesn’t go away.  The past isn’t back there, the past is here, too.

(from The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets)


Poetry Friday: Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Friday is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends


Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

I have been thinking a lot about kindness and our collective sense of humanity this week, as President Obama’s days in office dwindle and we enter another dimension entirely: one where bullying, misogyny, racism, and selfish gain are not only permitted by the man who will sit in the White House, but celebrated, too.  If  Wednesday’s press conference is any indication, we will be seeing this behavior every day and it may well begin to be the “new normal”.

I worry about what this will do to us as a nation, but I worry more about its effect on our children; we may teach them not to behave and speak in disrespectful, intimidating ways, but they will see their President doing so every day, and getting away with it.  How to teach kindness in the face of that?

In my small world, which is my classroom, I think I need to speak less about kindness and endeavor to show more of it.  Our kids are watching closely these days, more than ever.  I think they see the disconnect between what we say they should do (anti-bullying posters and assemblies) and how we behave towards them and each other, how we tolerate the bullying by the powerful and make excuses for that.  I need to cultivate my patience, I need to look for the causes underlying acting out, I need to  be willing to see things from their point of view even when it gets in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish as a teacher.   If my students don’t see me practicing every day kindness, if they don’t feel my essential sympathy for them even when they aren’t at their best, it doesn’t matter what else I say to them – the road will only be wide/the rain will never stop falling.

I can’t do anything about the behavior of the man who will soon be in the White House, but I can be vigilant about the way I behave in my house… and my classroom, too (which is, after all, my home away from home.



Poetry Friday: “Cross” by Margaret Hasse

Penny Parker Klostermann has the Poetry Friday Roundup today!

back to school shopping

It’s back to school season, and every where I go back to school shopping is taking place. For once, I am glad to be an empty nester, because not only do I detest shopping in general, but I these particular kind of  shopping excursions fell into a whole other category of  loathing.  Once the kids got older, with definite ideas about everything from shoes to types of pens to where we should shop, back to school shopping became all the more exhausting and excruciating.

Arguments.  So. Many. Arguments.

Compromises.  So. Many. Compromises.

This poem, featured on The Writer’s Almanac the other day, touched a nerve and brought those back to school shopping expeditions back to mind.  I see many “grand annoyers” out there in the stores these days…and I am, for once, glad to have move beyond this stage.


At concerts that I did not want to attend with my mother,
I learned to practice any number of nuisances possible in a
place of silence. I wore a cross to vex my mother, a Unitarian,
then ran the pendant back and forth along my necklace chain
like a loud zipper. During a pianissimo passage I unwrapped
waxy paper from a caramel, then coughed as if feathers tickled
my throat.

I’m paying for past trespasses now.

(you can rest the rest of the poem here.)

Digilit Sunday: Curving towards social justice through song

digilit sunday

Digilit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  Today, Margaret asks us to reflect on the word “curves”.

At first, I was not sure what to do with Margaret’s word, and so I borrowed Julieanne’s habit of allowing myself to simply mull over the idea to see where my thoughts would lead.  And I found myself gravitating to this image, a postcard on my bulletin board from a years ago visit to the Met, Vasily Kandinsky’s Free Curve to the Point – Accompanying Sound of Geometric Curves:

I have always loved the way this represented thought (to me, that is), and the way thoughts curve here and there in random ways at first, and then reach some sort of decisive point.

This led me to think about the way our year long poetry study has followed curves of its own: we began by examining the various craft moves in a poet’s tool box, then moved on to investigating poetry as a means of expressing personal thoughts, feelings, imaginings and perspectives.  Finally, in the waning days of the school year, we seem to be moving decisively into  the realm of the larger world: poetry as a call for social justice.  
A few weeks ago, a student wanted us to discuss Macklemore’s “White Privilege II”.  And so we did.  Our classroom crackled with important ideas and many perspectives; there was some agreement, and some disagreement, but our conversation (like Kandinsky’s curves), led to a decisive point: race relations cannot be ignored, and it is clear that equal justice under the law is something we are still working towards in our nation.
On Friday, we dug into the lyrics of Blowin’ in the Wind and If I had a Hammer.  My kids thought about each song first as individuals:

and then as a group.  They added lines and verses, sketched their thoughts, and asked questions about themselves and the world they live in:

At the end of our classes, my kids arrived at some decisive points in our conversations: we must not ignore the injustices we see, we must act more out of love than hate, we can make a difference.   We curve towards truth and the cause of social justice.