Sunday, July 30, 2006

To the Beach

to breathe the salty air
and read lots of books
and be thankful

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The Art of Eating (While Renovating a House)

Weekends of Chickfilet
Five Guys burgers
Cafe Mocha chicken salad sandwiches
take out Indian food from the buffet
loaded into styrofoam containers
and eaten over days

The pizza--
the shriveled green peppers
counting as nutrition

These nights I dream
a thin line of green beans
a curly vine arching
from the weight
of a single tomato

as if every good desire
could be filled
by this earth

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It is the thought of going which is the worst
the piling of clothes into baskets and bags
the multiple trips down the three
flights of stairs
the finding of underwear
or a stray sock
that's lost its way
crouching on a public landing
while I mumble
all i want is a washing machine
over and over to myself.

But once in the car
I think about my blessings
the arms
the legs
the hands
that helped me carry

how I take it all for granted

The clothes spin
I read my book
ignore the five different channels
clattering for attention
and rest in this intersection
of different lives
our dirty laundry
our different stories
meeting for a morning
brushing up against
stained sheets and
sour baby clothes
outside the private darkness
of basements
where bras flip and twist
in their quiet den

missing the act of revelation

Saturday, July 22, 2006


twoandahalflonghours we spent
listening to names
perfect attendance and
academic achievement and
academic improvement and
leadership and character and
speeches from the eighth graders
moving on to high school and
thankyous to the volunteers
and helpers and staff and
this is the ending
kids make the milestone
complete the grade, move on
from year to year
climb the swaying rope ladder
to adulthood, mark each step
along the way in final celebrations
each grade forward a notch of success
and you send them off hoping
they keep journeying
keep being a little of the person
you know right now
no matter how grownup
they become
this is the goodbye
and this is the looking
to September

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Crouching Poems

I was working on a poem this week but it did not come to fruition. I decided to unearth an old attempt at a love poem from many years ago.

She fell in love with a deaf boy
and finger-spelled her way
across empty space
her thumbnail pulling knots
from his flailing heart
gently scrawling sounds
from lip to ear
in the curve of her palm
recklessly tumble
into his lap as she
spells Bach and jazz
across his chest
they sing
for the poems
in the hollow
of his

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Floor Committment

Yesterday we bought a floor
to put over the plywood
separating our stories.

A floor means we're almost home.
It means a next chapter.

Then we met with the guy at Lumber Liquidators.

We pulled out the birch planks
that had been chosen--
researched by
laid it on the counter
a perfect hand.

Ya really gotta baby your floor Mr. Helpful intoned
Ya can't just put any old cleaner on there
No cheap wood polish
No pets
No heavy traffic
Ya should clean it 'bout once a day

Seriously? Clean the floor once a day?
Does anyone do that?

Did you clean those samples today, my husband smiled

Oh, not today he replied

It made me wonder about all the houses and houses
with wood on the floor
resting there
year after year
while feet march
through birthdays and
Christmas mornings,
evenings of sorrow
and snow tracked in
on a winter afternoon.

A dent, a scrape
a history of life lived.
A floor sees it all.
Supports the everyday.

So we're taking the plunge
starting our house story
laying down birch
crossing our fingers.

(We bought the special cleaner.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Second Home

"After all, we all want our names called
through the streets all evening; we all want
to be lost, and looked for, and found again..."

- Maggie Anderson, "What We Want"

My mom's sending us away
to live in North Carolina
Lawanda reported the other week
We'll be leaving before the end of school.

The twins, Lawanda and Lawanna,
have been headache and heartache
little girls shining
making their way
in this tough world.

On Friday we said our good-byes
scribbling phone numbers, addresses
Thank you, Lawanda said dramatically
Thank you for being there for me.
This has been like my second home.

But what's a second home?

You're just one face in the crowd
and you're always second to the
lesson or the test or the day's
everyday drama.
We teach you to read and write
a poem--
hoping that will
bridge the thin pain
this life passes out.

But a second home
can't follow you across miles
threading the phone lines
with kind words.
It doesn't roadtrip on your graduation
to hear your name.

It sits on this corner
for your return
with whatever news
of life
a prodigal child
might bring.

May you find home


Thursday, July 13, 2006

On Hearing of the Death of Mr. Lay

"'Apparently, his heart simply gave out,' said Lay's pastor"
The Baltimore Sun, July 5, 2006 in response to the death of Kenneth Lay

What makes a man's heart stop?
clogged arteries?
fear of prison?
or might it be--

do you wake up one morning
and after drinking coffee
realize you're wearing
the emperor's clothes?

it's time to abdicate the throne
and all those stories you told
the others and yourself
ring dull like tin?

is this the status of hearts?
after the fancy houses and the being at the top
after the hoarding up of pensions and the yachts
and the stock and the holding of others
every day life
do the palpitations start?

does the heart just stop?

or does it shrink
from a frizzled yarn knot
to a tangle on a thread
to the snag
which just won't fit
through a needle

and then it

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The Scent of Feet

I think writing a humorous poem is incredibly difficult. I was going to give up the challenge when I thought about how much my students LOVE funny poems. It's the biggest poetry hook. So I read through a book of Shel Silverstein for inspiration (he makes it seem so effortless!) and decided to give it a try.

We've had this odd happening in my classroom of late where kids pull off their shoes and smell them during the day. Multiple kids. Multiple times. I find this odd and have made ridiculous mandates like, "There will be no smelling of feet in class!" It has yet to work. So I'll share this attempt at a funny poem with them instead.

The Scent of Feet

Keep your shoes on your feet!
the teacher would repeat.
At this age your toes
should not be near your nose!

But we love our pheremones
and we cannot help but sniff
to get a little whiff
of the grubby, mossy funk.

We’re taken with the gunk
of old sneaker lumps
jelly shoe crud
some two-day-old sock.

So we know that it is crass
but we cannot help ourselves
from inhaling the perfume
of our toes
in class.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Upon Meeting a Poet at the Barnes and Noble Cafe

Can I write you a poem?
I notice you have a lot of interesting books.

Um. Sure. I guess.

I did have a pile--
15 potential books
to add to my classroom library
a resource book on how
to teach discussion
and a few odd volumes of poetry.

I believe everyone should have a poem
written about them at least once.
So I go to books stores and cafes
and write poems for people.

I'm for more poetry in the world...
I can participate in this.

What continues is a fairly awkward interview--
the poet asks me questions
I give guarded answers
and realize that, poetry or not,
I really just want
to be left alone with my books
not sharing my life with the cafe poet
as he takes notes.

What are you drinking?

Iced tea.

What kind of iced tea?

Green tea.

Well that's interesting.

I didn't really think so.

But then again,
perhaps we all need wandering poets
slipping in and out of our lives
waiting to post a poem over an ad
for a Barnes and Noble
chocolate cupcake.
Maybe we should all be finding
poems in garbage cans and
file cabinets. Refrigerators and
sock drawers and green tea.

The poem written for me:

Emily says the children she reaches
Are the main reason she teaches.
I easily picture her leading
Fifth graders to the world of reading.

-Marc 5 July '06

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I spent the day at multiple Home Depots
from one
to another
and back to the original one
to procure counter
Our house
is beginning to come

Our new lights and ceiling fan

The bathroom floor I grouted on Saturday

A view from a back window

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The Invisible Village

Ellie is poor, says Nisha
of a character in our book.
She is not, Lawanda counters.
She is like me and my family
And we are not poor

Who lengthens the spine
to the neck to
gaze in the mirror

I am poor.
I have nothing.
I lost my childhood to these streets.
Hope ran off with my single dream.
I see war on my front stoop.
I might be the next recruit.

This is the invisible village.

There will be no calvary,
no host of angels.
There will be no boot-strap assistance.


But a girl may peek out
her back bedroom window
notice the perseverance of
a thin green vine and
find a downpour
of words
to a blank page.

Consider how much we have been given
in this empty land.

. . . . . . . . . .

(This is still a work in progress. I stumbled upon the phrase "invisible village" in a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and thought it spoke to the neighborhood where I work.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Good Girl Porn

In teaching
you never know what's
gonna come at you.

Today it was porn.

My fifth grade girls
were passing around
a Hustler DVD
peppered with women--
bare breasts
legs wide open.

I called Shaya into the hall
when I found it in her possession.

It's not mine.
It's my friend's friend who brought it.

And that would be...

Oh no, my drama queen continued
I'm not gonna give up their names.

Well. I guess you're responsible then.

Okay. I'll tell you.
She buckled in mere moments.
I got it from Yasmine
who got it from Brita.
She brought it from home.

This was questionable intel
since Brita is the good girl.
She would be hands-down voted
least likely girl to bring porn
and pass it in class.

But during independent reading
Brita asked if she could speak to me
out in the hall.
Could you shut the door?
she whispered tentatively.

And she admirably explained
that yes, she had brought the DVD from home.
Her and Yasmine had seen it at her house
and Yasmine talked her into bringing it to school.

Sometimes a good girl's
got to change up her image.

I can't satiate
the curiosity of my eleven year olds
about sex and love
as their lives have made them
older than their years.
But I know there is a
knotty little girl heart
down deep.

Take your time
Take your time
Don't rush
Don't rush

I whisper out into the emptiness
of my classroom at the end of the day
hoping these words will settle
on the shoulders of girls

fighting to be women.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

America at Jolly's

I said put the chicken in longer--
I hate it when it's cold.
Don't you even know how
to make a sandwich?

This was lunchtime at Jolly's
the little convenience store
a few blocks over from
our new house.
It's half imitation 7-11
and half Subway--
both surrounded in
bullet proof glass.

Jolly's is never my first choice
of food. But it was a long day
working in our house.
Jolly's is located in a
segregated black neighborhood,
operated by Pakistanis,
serving a primarily black clientele
and occaisionally a white woman (me)
who has been given, at times,
a 10% discount on food.

I believe this discount is given
because I'm white.

For awhile I had a Jolly's boyfriend
who would ask for my phone number
and give me free veggie sandwiches.
I'm married!
I'd yell through the bullet proof glass
pointing at my wedding band
while the young Pakistani nodded
without accepting any cash.

For these reasons, I try not to
patronize Jolly's.
But today, easy won.

And on this unbearably hot July 4th
the proverbial melting pot--
was running over.

It was the guy in front of me
ordering the chicken sub.
Now put the chicken in the microwave
with the cheese on top.

-We don't put it in the microwave said the guy
behind the glass.

Well I want my cheese melted the customer ordered
his voice raising into a yell
My chicken's always cold and the cheese ain't melted!
Damn! Put that sandwich in the microwave.

-We can't put it in the microwave

Whadda ya mean you can't put it in the microwave!
Put that sandwich in the microwave and
melt my cheese!

I myself wondered why the microwave was cheese resistant
but wanted my fellow patron to chill out and
take it down a notch.

I just kept to myself
and yelled my order
of veggie on wheat
into the security booth.

The chicken sandwich went
into a toaster oven
and came out with melted cheese.

Meanwhile, the guy behind me
started to order his sandwich.
Twelve inch on white bread.

-We do not have white bread,
said the man behind the glass.
We have Italian bread.

I don't want Italian bread
gimme some white bread,

-The white bread is the Italian bread

Damn, just give me the white bread,
don't you all even know how
to make a sandwich.
Gimme what I want.

-Didn't you go to school? Don't you know
the Italian bread is the white bread?

I had now moved over to the beverage case
thinking this white bread guy
was really digging a hole--
nothing like starting a public shouting match
when you're wrong.
And nothing like egging him on.
It seemed clear what bread he wanted.

Yeah I went to school! You didn't go to school
in here makin' sandwiches and you can't
even make a sandwich. You don't know
who you messing with. I'll come back
in here with a piece and then let's see

He stormed out, sandwichless.

This is America.
On our day of celebration
of freedom and liberty.

Here is the consequence
of neighborhoods
segregated by race,
economically isolated
dialogue lost to the streets.

Here the air is thick and tense
Here is the collision of words
smacking against the safety glass
to ricochet in confusion.

Here is America.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Gift

Lawanda offered to come help me
on the house after school today.
We've been really trying to
push progress forward
over the weekend
and the 4th.

So I let Lawanda come
in the humid heat.
We picked up garbage
and I let her sand a door frame
paint a patch of wall
then clean the brushes
as we sweat
on the third floor.

This is the bounty
of being a teacher.

A twelve-year old
helping out with some
thankless work
on a hot summer afternoon
when a hydrant is
spewing water
just across the way.

These are the gifts you get
that get you through
those days that are trials
when Lawanda is a trial.

This is the thank you.
This is the gift.