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What Have We Become?

In a few days I will return to work. I am a teacher. I have been working from home since mid-March. The spring was rough and non-productive; as soon as the seniors figured out that grades stopped on the day before they were sent home, they stopped working. I do not blame them. They are driven and smart. And by that point they had all been accepted to college. I do blame the lack of national, state, and local leadership for what has happened since March. There has been so much left undone, which could have been done to prevent so much illness and death. But here we are.

My wife’s parents in their 80’s are in Ft. Worth with her sister right now. Her sister moves to Atlanta sometime after the New Year. My in-laws will come back to live with us after that. Our jobs could kill them. Since my wife has gone back to work in her building two weeks ago, we have not been able to see our grandson. In about six weeks my son’s wife will have another boy, who we will not be able to see because of the risk of Covid. The choice between incomes/careers and the safety of our families is truly fucked. I am not a front-line worker. I am an English teacher. I talk about poetry, and literature, how to write an argument.. to find wisdom in the art of the past.

Austin teachers return to their buildings on October 5th, ironically enough, World Teacher day. The majority of the students will stay home, and continue to do school through their computers.  I have been teaching my students for the last three weeks virtually from home. I will continue to teach my students virtually from a room in the very old building where I usually teach my students in person. I, along with two other teachers, will rotate into a room where 9 or so seniors and juniors, who are coming back into the building for various reasons, will be learning in the room using their computers to access their teachers who are teaching virtually from other rooms in the building, or, if the teacher has qualified for ADA or FMLA, from their homes. The students in the building will stay in the room with me and the other two teachers all day.

Do not misunderstand me. I miss seeing my students every day that I am on the computer with them. My students are the absolute best. I wish that I was in the room with them, listening to them talk to each other about poetry and literature. Watch them as they have first encounters with some of the great literature from the last few hundred years. They need little encouragement to engage with deep thoughts with complete delight, making connections to their lives and obsessions, which usually concern topics of social justice. A topic which has become foremost in all of our lives because of Covid. However, I do not want any of them to become ill with this horrible virus, and possibly die. They do not have to be that close to the harshness of life which poetry and literature unfolds for many of us.

And that is the rub, the elephant in the room, the one fact that no one talks about: people are going to die because of a rash decision to open the schools. People are going to die. Say that again: people are going to die. It could be  staff at the school, teachers, librarians, principals. It could be students, someone’s child, who dies. It could be the parents or grandparents at home who are infected by the children they love.  Now, here is where I fail to understand: why are the powers-that-be willing to risk the death of so many people. Nothing has changed since March when everything closed down. There is not a vaccine; the numbers of infected are still setting record numbers, and people are still dying, lots of people are still dying. 

Is remote learning as effective as face to face in the classroom? No, it is not. Is it safer for everyone? Yes it is. Are we that desperate to return to the way things were that we are willing to sacrifice large numbers of our family and neighbors? If so, then I hate to think that anyone thought normal meant willingly allowing death to roam the streets so that we can go have a beer at the local brewery. There must be something more pernicious in play. I fear for us all.

(September 29, 2020)

Featured

Lines Written in a Pandemic a Few Days After the Summer Solstice

from a work in progress: “Process, Not a Journey” (67)

our earth wobbles its way

about the sun like a drunk

unsure of her footing

moves again

toward the bar

*

day by day minute by minute

plods toward darkness

for the next six months

each day grows darker

by one minute

*

not quite disturbing

the dullard doves

who coo complacently

on the fence

cardinals and jays

fussing constantly

slip after each other

between tree branches

I watch and listen

to this dance

for hours

and can do nothing

*

as it was in the beginning

world without end

(June 23, 2020)

limbo (a reading)

limbo

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (61)

months of laconic weeks drift

past as the centuries two-step

a dance macabre about the village

square like old lovers late at night

dance slowly arms entwined 

in a practiced grace

your death’s not important 

to them any more than mine 

only this dance matters

the horror of it lies 

in the death head’s grin

which does not pretend 

to hide its deception 

there is no skin to map 

its laughter into flowers

across our blind eyes 

no dead platitudes to act 

as balm for our world in flames

(June 14, 2020)

limbo

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (61)

months of laconic weeks drift

past as the centuries two-step

a dance macabre about the village

square like old lovers late at night

dance slowly arms entwined 

in a practiced grace

your death’s not important 

to them any more than mine 

only this dance matters

the horror of it lies 

in the death head’s grin

which does not pretend 

to hide its deception 

there is no skin to map 

its laughter into flowers

across our blind eyes 

no dead platitudes to act 

as balm for our world in flames

(June 14, 2020)

dark earth (a reading)

dark earth

from a work in progress: process, not a journey (60)

obsessively the earth gives birth

to its dead rich and fertile

safe inside itself unseen

unvoiced like ecstatic dancers

beneath a moon-bright sky

the earth lifts the rose

the oak twisting and throbbing

into the air so i burrow deep

beneath the black soil a worm

gnashing rocks like prayers

until i find a darker god

and somewhere in the black clay

an old woman natters

lost in perpetual disappointment

as a death skull’s laughter’s

trapped in his life’s delusion

(May 7, 2020)

dark earth

from a work in progress: process, not a journey (60)

obsessively the earth gives birth

to its dead rich and fertile

safe inside itself unseen

unvoiced like ecstatic dancers

beneath a moon-bright sky

the earth lifts the rose

the oak twisting and throbbing

into the air so i burrow deep

beneath the black soil a worm

gnashing rocks like prayers

until i find a darker god

and somewhere in the black clay

an old woman natters

lost in perpetual disappointment

and a death skull’s bored laugh’s

trapped in his life’s delusion

(May 7, 2020)

the lethargic day’s disquietude

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (50)

time does not flow forward it folds and turns

as mind rattles from thought to thought like rain

drops into puddles making the water

wetter as it vanishes from itself

.

the flow turns inward like the subduction

of one tectonic plate to another

it circles back in an eddy’s slow twirl

until its start is lost within its end

.

time takes its time to tell what time it is

what with the past’s present nature

contending with the present’s obsession

with tomorrow’s constant unravelling

.

then quite suddenly it’s no longer there

like your last stagnant puff of fetid air

(April 9, 2020)

as if he must explain

from a work in progress: “process, not a journey” (32)

after dad died

I would wear his shirts

they were too large

for my adolescent body

.

thin wisps of skin 

like spider’s silk

drift in the wind

.

each new mask adhered

to and was shaped by

the one that came before

.

my feet are numb now

as if on fire

.

as the ground slips away

I grasp for space

.

I don’t know how I got here

or where I’m coming from

I’m tired and out of breath

I need to sit down 

.

when asked I don’t know

who I am or where

.

I think of my father

and how he died gasping

for air drowning in phlegm

.

and my collar grows tight

.

(February 24, 2020)