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How Poetry Works

An image like a flower,

something simple, a cliche

even, to distract away

from the slight of hand performed

beneath the mark’s open gaze.

Like now, for instance, you turn

your attention from the poem,

secure in your own slow thoughts;

what you trust to know trembles

as if a leaf in autumn.

Here exists my truth and yours.

I can explain myself true,

in a way that you cannot.

Thus, seeds grow into flowers.

(November 25, 2018)

Birdsong

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“All life is a foreign country”

–Jack Kerouac

 

All my life my tongue

could not curl about

the words spoken here—

my teeth cut my cheek

as I stumbled over

simple words, simple ideas.

I was silenced in simple

misunderstandings, in fear

of the wrong word spoken

too loudly, too softly,

or not at all.

I wish I were

a mockingbird able

to flit between the leaves

singing the song of others;

to speak earnestly around

the mundane bits of life

we share, like now, or mimic

an old man’s nod of greeting,

or children’s laughter outside

this window; or to simply cross

over the border to a home.

 

(September 1, 2018)

Our Words

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While the mendacious moan

their pious exclamations

to smother any dissent,

 

a metaphor translates thought,

holds out the broken leaves

as an offering from the gods,

 

an opening to move through

to find a different bend

in the light you’ve come to know.

 

The ground, slightly uneven,

is common enough, a solid

base to build upon.

 

Simple words whispered

into temples and prisons.

 

(August 21, 2018)

My 30th Year of Teaching

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(part one)

I never wanted to be a teacher. Yet, I am about to start my 30thyear teaching in public schools in Texas. I have worked in four middle schools and three high schools, taught 7ththrough 12thgrade, taught newspaper, yearbook, English 7th-12thgrade, pre-AP English (8th-10th), Gifted and Talented middle school English, Advanced Placement Language and Composition, Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, Dual Credit English through Austin Community College, and The University of Texas at Austin. I even taught a German class for a semester. This year I will be teaching four sections of Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, and for the first time a creative writing class, as well as a film studies class, also for the first time. With an average of 150 students a year, I will have had contact with 4,500 students in my classrooms. My first students, 7thgraders in Beeville, Texas are turning 43 years old this year. It is possible that their 13-year-old children could have been in my class at one point in the last decade.

Over time I have come to like teaching, although every year I think about quitting and doing something else, but am never sure what it would be that I could do.  Every few years for the last 30, I start to think I am pretty good at what I do, then something happens to make me realize that perhaps I am not as good as I think. Teaching is a humbling profession.

As a high school student I would have scoffed at the idea of becoming a teacher. The last thing I wanted was to return to school after graduating. Now I feel at home the most when I am in a classroom, either as a student or as a teacher. I left high school to become a journalist, but a professors advice to find the victim’s mother to get a good quote, drove me that same day to change my major to English. I like to write, although my first English advisor told me cynically and accurately, “One does not necessarily learn to write in English.”

Right out of college I worked as a baker at a local bakery in Austin, Texas French Bread. It was only for a few years that I worked there, but it still holds some of my fondest memories. One morning  (4am) on the way to work, as I waited on the stop light to change, I thought I should do something with my English degree. When my shift ended at noon, I walked over to UT and found out what I needed to do to become certified to teach in Texas.  A bit more than thirty years later, that quick, almost whimsical decision at a stop light led me to where I am now, teaching at an all girl public high school in Austin, Texas— and my life’s work.

 

(My plan is to write about my life as a teacher over the course of this school year. Topics will be determined pretty much in the same manner I decided to teach—through chance and whimsy).