Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Ten

This has been a long week. THE TEST has started and the worms have arrived and yesterday the AIDS people returned to hand out prizes and pamphlets.

After an endless morning of coloring bubbles we tried to coast through the afternoon. At 4:00 we reported to the gym to hear a twenty-one year old woman speak about her experience with AIDS.

I'm off my medicine, she proclaimed. I'm tired of taking it.
I wake up every morning and hate what I see in the mirror.

The test weary audience was glazed over with only a few giggles when things like anal sex and vaginal fluid came up.

Then it was time to go around to tables set up with brochures and pamphlets and tablets and pencils...all the things a bunch of kids will lap up like a treasure. They were handed shiny red bags to hold all their paper. Just as they were leaving, a teacher discovered that there were also condoms. Handfuls of condoms: strawberry and lime, female and ribbed...our ten year olds had strips of condoms piled in their bags.

I am not opposed to educating kids about contraceptives but I do think it's important to actually educate them, not throw them in a bag and hand it to them like candy. ("I want a piece of candy!" one first grader whined while passing by) And I think ten is too young. It's already the beginning of crossing out of childhood. No one wants a bag full of condoms with that.

And so, I share this recently discovered poem by Billy Collins. I keep reading the last two stanzas over and over again because they are that perfect.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

-- Billy Collins

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Blogger Deezee said...

Love Billy Collins. Saw him live last year and it was an amazing treat.

And 10-yr-olds with condoms? Eek. I can't wait til you can upload that photo!

3:08 AM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

I like Billy Collins a lot too and that's a new poem for me. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

7:52 AM  
Anonymous poet with a day job said...

Thanks for the Collins poem - it is a beautiful one. I feel you on the education. It's hard to know what the kids are doing or not doing. You want them to use a condom if they are indeed having sex, but you don't want them to start having sex just because you gave them a condom. At ten I remember all I wanted was to play sports and ride horses. I still had no conception of the adult difference between girls and boys.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

Ay, me. Great post. First, a beautiful Collins poem - thanks for that, it gave me chills. And second: condoms at ten?! Too young, I agree. We can't take childhood away so early. I truly hope their parents step up to THAT plate -- I hope there was lots of explaining going on in homes that night. We skin our knees, we bleed -- but at ten, there is still a magic there. It begins to fall away, yes - but childhood is not gone yet! I hope!

3:48 PM  
Blogger Regina Clare Jane said...

Gosh- the poem fits perfectly with what you experienced yesterday. I can't believe what we've come to... 10 year olds... it's much too young for anything other than lollipops and horsey rides.
But hen agian- it's been a long time since I've been 10...

3:50 PM  
Blogger Kimberley McGill said...

Thanks for reminding me of this Billy Collins poem - it always makes me a little misty eyed.

Kids are exposed to so much information today - its hard to tell which ones are doing what - its sad.

8:16 PM  
Blogger pepektheassassin said...

Thanks for sharing this poem--it does fit perfectly with your experience yesterday. I remember being ten....

My just-turned-four grandson said yesterday, "I'm DONE with three!"

Me, too, I thought sadly. I'm DONE with ten, too, and twenty, and thirty....

8:44 PM  
Blogger January said...

Thank you for your story with the poem. You're right, the last two stanzas are perfect.

When I was nine, I wanted a magic wand so I could make my parents disappear. Now I would give anything to live closer to them.

I also wonder what awaits my kids when they go into double digits.

Great post.

9:47 PM  
Blogger jen said...

what a terrific poem. i've been working on a post tonight that is along the same theme as having to be something other than kids a bit too fast and a bit too much.

your kids are so lucky to have you.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Dana said...

I just sent this poem to my boss, who has the greatest child who has been "thinking a lot about his life lately," in his own words. He's, like, seven.

Thanks for sharing it.

12:18 AM  
Blogger twitches said...

A great poem, love the ending. And I agree - you cannot just throw condoms into a goody bag, what's the point? I guess they were not uncomfortable teaching 10-year-olds how to use them, which should have been a sign not to include them...

8:35 AM  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Alas we are making our children grow up too fast - I agree. Thank you for your poignant reminder. Hope it makes a difference somehow - I'm sure your influence on your students will.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Rethabile said...

I love Billy Collins. This poem is the first I've read by him. Thanks. And i agree with chiefbiscuit too that we must let them finish their childhood.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

i was shocked when sara came upstairs with a long string of still-attached condoms...

and then, i thought of the conversation i had with K. a month or so back...

it IS too early...but it?

i wish i could say "yes" defiantly and mean it with all of my heart.

good connection to the b. collins poem. ( many times your poetry reminds me of well done, leaving me saying "yes! yes! exact)ly!")

9:46 PM  
Anonymous katie said...

em...what a great use of that poem...It is my favorite of his:) I wish the world was different. I wish children weren't forced to grow up so fast...I think you are wonderful...and doing wonderful work. I am glad you are trying to protect keep them at 10...which I trully believe is one of those golden ages. Your wonderful! Katie

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Gel(Emerald Eyes) said...

Hi Emily,
I'm a (liberal) educator, but I wholeheartedly agree with you that "handing out condoms like candy with no explanation" is not the way to educate!

I remember when my daughter entered "double digits." I had never heard of that phrase to describe "10." This poem, oh- it's a good one. I also felt the poignancy in those last two stanzas. Great choice to share for PT!
(Thank you for the compliment about my blog redesign. I'm glad you find it soothing. SO do I! :) I design all of my blogs. This one is currently has a portion of one of my paintings as its header.)
Take care

1:02 AM  

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