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Ars Poetica: The Fiction of Truth


Since I do understand the importance

Of narrative, I tell stories without

Telling stories, like now, as I write this

Poem. I’ve created a fiction of me,

Truthfully, yet still a grounded fiction,

Who is speaking to you, someone absent,

As if we were strangers ordered to share

A rough table in a pub. But instead 

of talking about the local football 

team, or rudely about the government,

I talk to you as if you are in love,

Listening, as I speak, rather than write,

These simplistic thoughts upon this blank page,

And pretend you did not leave years ago.

(January 11, 2019)

Storied Definition

Storyteller-New

 

Within the parameters

Which define me,

Am I who I am,

Or who I have created?

I revise a simple story

Of which I am a part;

The story compels belief,

And I comply completely.

I am only a part of

this story as a voice

I hear, which stays near

Slightly behind all I do:

I am this voice, this story;

I am my only limitation.

 

(November 20, 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).

afterwards

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She picked up his bones

scattered in the yard,

and took them into the house.

 

Her workshop was cluttered;

so she cleaned off a spot, and

orderly stacked them up.

 

Days went by, then weeks,

and finally years. The bones

collected dust like mementos.

 

One day, stumped, she looked

up from her work, and saw

the neatly stacked dry bones.

 

She laughed as she remembered

him, then went to work:

drilling, weaving, balancing.

 

She sang as she worked, happy

at last to be creating so freely

from his humble remains.

 

Finished, she took what she had

made from him, and hung

it from an old oak tree.

 

It danced a hollow dance,

clattering as the bones clacked

together with every wind.

 

In the evenings she would sit,

and sip a glass of wine, happier

than she had ever been with him.

 

(August 7, 2018)

Right Here Where We Are

 

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There are too many trees

in this forest for a trail

to easily follow home,

too many slavering wolves

to pay attention to the way.

 

Often, I tell stories without

telling stories as I teach.

Who has the time for hidden

messages? The metaphor’s too often

lost in the ubiquitous as it is .

 

Like now, one should mark this

turn on the path so we might

return again later as different

people who are no longer lost.

 

Of course, that would require

attention to where we are

now— accepting what’s here

as the only place to know,

and the only way we can be.

 

There is no one hiding

behind the trees, no fairies

dancing circles in the dark.

There are only our words

right here where we are.

 

(August 7, 2018)

 

No One Watches the Train Fall from the Broken Bridge

 

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His problem has nothing to do with the train which travels steadily through the night. Everyone is content, if not happy, on the train, reading opinions they already agree with, drinking champagne, eating delicacies imported from foreign countries. They pretend they do not like the food, but wish they could eat as well at home.  All of the people on the train are facing the same direction, which gives them all a strange comfort.  A few of them look out the windows, but it is too dark to see the trees in the forest. It all follows along so logically, like a math problem in high school where rats scuttle east over well-polished wing-tips at a variable rate of three feet per second. They stop randomly to nibble on discarded bread crumbs dropped with nonchalance by the passengers on the train. Meanwhile the train travels south at a consistent seventy-three miles per hour directly toward the crumbled bridge which once traversed a chasm one thousand feet deep and a mile wide. There is no question at the end that one must answer. However, there is an answer; there is always an answer. No one watches the train fall from the broken bridge. No one hears the explosions as it crashes into the rocks below, or the last cries for help of those who are momentarily still alive.  On a trail nearby the train tracks, a monk moves through the dark as if he has been here before, thinking vaguely of other things. He pauses, peers into the dark, then wanders off along his way. The monk’s tangentially wandering mind is not enough to mark the train’s passing beyond the silence which lingers in the mountains for several hours after the sun has risen again.

 

(July 6, 2018)