Thursday, April 27, 2006

Learning to Love Jazz

A flute
bass clarinet
and trombone
are playing in the living room.

They are rehearsing a new composition
by my husband T.
He's a jazz musician.

I'm not much into jazz.

It's sometimes hard to find a melody
the solos can go on forever
the notes rub against
each other like a squeaky wheel

But loving someone who loves jazz
means it starts to creep up on you a bit.
You begin to wonder at how a horn player
scoops those notes off a page
and improvises a new strain
or you start humming the Freedom Suite,
can't get it out of your brain
and you enjoy wearing headphones
while you watch a movie
so you can hear Giant Steps
being practiced nearby.

Maybe this is how we fall into new loves--
open up your heart to a trombone
in the living room carrying
a few sweet notes to the kitchen
that settle peacefully
on a shoulder--
and you want this moment
to continue.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fracturing the World

Did you hear what happened last night?
Lawanda asked as I dropped my lunch off
in the cafeteria this morning

Nope. What happened?

Ciara's brother got shot.
He was with Emerald
(she's 7)
and another little kid.
He threw Emerald over this wall
to keep her away

Is he okay?

shoulder shrug
There are days I'm standing
on a battlefield with not enough equipment
an ER doctor with only band-aids in my pocket

the inadequate tools of my trade...
a pass to the social worker

a neighborhood fractures into pieces
teenagers dying
I helpfully stand around with glue and tape
trying to patch things up to get us through the day

It is not enough.

You become a teacher because you believe
education is hope--
everyone gets a chance
to make the best life

unless you die on your front stoop

Sometimes a kind teacher, a good school
is not good enough
we cast out a net across the grey streets
and hope to catch a thumbnail
of the children who live
layered in armor
protecting their corner of life

How do they make it out of bed?
trekking down the streets of glass
to adults who hug and smile
but can't change
the world

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Beach in April

You only brought flip-flops? T. asked

And so began my rainy weekend in
lovely Cape May, NJ
with only flip-flops and a sweatshirt
(my spring jacket was sacrificed to insulation
and flip-flops seemed a perfect choice
for beach and rain)

While chilly at times
I couldn't ask for more--
some reading
a very short rain walk
cable TV
(the joy of no cable in regular life
is stumbling upon
100 Teenage Stars: Where are They Now?
on a grey afternoon)

and by Sunday the sun peeked out so we could
visit the beach
and ride bikes through the town

a perfect rainy weekend

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Secrets of Yoga

I had been anti-yoga for a long time.
I thought it was trendy, another passing fad
I would not fall prey to breathing and incense.

Over the summer, my friend C., a yoga believer,
dragged me to her class
and despite my skepticism
I loved it.

I felt relaxed rolling around on the mat
melting into the floor

The only problem--
I wasn't very good.

I've never been athletic
I played field hockey in high school
because I liked the kilt for a uniform
In middle school, I tried out cross country
and was always the last one running
around an empty field

Yoga has been no exception

rising up
grounding down
light and heavy
tucking and tilting

Last night we were to visualize this wheel
helping to keep our body moving
in all these opposite rotations
Trust the image
our teacher intoned

But I just didn't get it

I couldn't figure out how this wheel was moving
and how it was supposed to help me
it kept switching directions--
rolling off like a forgotten tricycle

So I pretended,
while stretching into triangle pose
conjuring up a bicycle wheel
which rolled over my right foot
rather than putting me in balance

I wanted to get it
but figured my teacher
could tell I wasn't
receiving the visualization

Isn't this life in any classroom?

A teacher in full understanding
trying to break knowledge
into palatable bites
a pupil longing for the moment
when it's clear as the final piece
of puzzle locking into place

the world falls into balance
your head floats to the clouds
your feet root in the spring dirt
you smile
the secret is yours

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Insulation Installation

My insulation lesson:

1. Cut the bundles to fit exactly--
any spaces will let air flow through and
stray drafts will haunt you
the rest of your days
in this house

2.Staple the paper sides to the beams
to act as a moisture shield
when the roof is freezing
and the rooms below are
cozy and warm

3. Attempt not to breathe in the fiberglass--
but there will be much coughing nevertheless.
Watch cotton candy tufts blow out the window
and wonder where all those toxins

4. Be thankful for the clouds in the rafters
that inside this house is a little bit of heaven
one more layer of protection
against the chilly world

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Minnesota Nice

I am in the land of niceness.

Stopping by a coffee shop
the other morning
the cashier was ecstatic.

Thank you for getting this bagel!
We'll get you some coffee
and thank you SO MUCH!
And you have a nice day!

I feel like I am a generally nice person
but this exchange was a bit much.
I was getting a latte,
not winning an academy award.

And it was the same at the Thai place,
the movies, another cafe...
Rumor is that this niceness even extends
to city government and the MVA.

East coast nice can't touch
the nice of Minneapolis
because it's pretty over the top

Maybe the world would be better
with more smiles and thankyous
appreciation for the person at the counter--

It might be nice.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Other Worlds

Today I was sent to
the plumbing supply store
with a list of things
in another language

black tee
black reductive
cpva female iron piping/fip
cop 90

I had to ask the plumber
to repeat himself
again and again
because I'd never heard
these words before
let alone tell them to
someone else
at a counter

and there's a pipe called female?
why is that?

perhaps because the plumbing supply store
is an outpost of civilization
where females-do-not-tread

Don't let those guys ignore you or push ahead of you
my husband cautioned over the phone
You've got to get in there!

List in hand and with an attitude ready
I trespasssed on the terrain
of plumbers

there was an old counter with stools
and metal shelving
boxes full of plumbing ware

I tentatively read off the list
and they brought it to me
a grizzled old guy even
offered up his stool
and the cashiers smiled
helpfully as I stumbled along

what other pockets of the world
have I not
attended to?
what other pockets of life
do I not

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


the railings in
our house

and scuffed

I chisel
paint splatters
gooey brown tar

then sand
away the finish

erasing the memories
of years

opening up the grain
bringing it all back
to the wood
which was there

beginning again

Monday, April 03, 2006

Planting for Change

For our first day of spring break
we all came to school
to practice democracy.

We wrote emails
jammed fax lines
and called and called
and called and called
till we felt sorry for
the administrative assistants
answering the phones.

We love our school, we said
Please don't take it away from us

The lesson today was that anyone can write a letter
whether you're ten or fifty
you can send a fax and an email
get on some nerves
get some attention

Anyone can plant a seed for justice
give it some water, a little April sun
then sit back--
to grow us some change.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

More Than Right Now

Education made the news this week
when THE STATE decided to take over
eleven failing city schools

The CEO, the mayor, the school board
all cried out to the tv cameras
how unjust this was
they just needed a chance
to make it better

One high school, Douglass, graduated
Thurgood Marshall and the city
authorities ranted at what a shame it was,
with such a long, proud history
that they should lose this high school

But this is a school where
only 4% could pass the state-wide Algebra exam
only 14% in English
Is this the legacy Thurgood Marshall wanted?
To stand up and protect a
rotting system?

These days the only thing that I have learned
is that there are no easy answers
in a city that separates the
rich and poor like
oil and water

never meeting

The private schools
on leafy campuses
are different countries
compared to a zoned school
like Douglass--
a place you don't choose
but are sent,
where we're happy when a bunch of kids
manage to graduate
while up the road
we send graduates only
to the best colleges

I don't know if the state has a solution
but right now
the kids of this city
need more than they have