Ode to Blue Skies

You slap me in the face

like a bucket of ice water on the fifty yard line.

I wake from my stupor

to spot seagulls swirling above my mother’s head,

corn chips drawing them closer and closer,

their shapes softly silhouetted in your sapphire sky.

A cup is gripped tightly by an admirer

in the distance.

Time stops.

Then, a black crow lands and

the cobalt fades to powder and salmon.

Lingering here,

I understand,

but only briefly.

A chill wind brushes against my cheek

and you’re gone.

Mother

Slice of Life 2020: Day 27

My creative writing students begin the study of writing by looking at Langston Hughes’ poem, “Negro.” It is a powerful poem with a powerful message about overcoming obstacles, growing strong in the face of adversity, and being comfortable in one’s own skin. We look at how the poet uses repetition, punctuation, allusion, metaphor, and place to establish the tone and theme of this piece.

Then, I ask each student to write a poem in this same style. Each student becomes the speaker, “I am…”

Everybody comes from somewhere and each of us has a unique reference point from our histories that guides, to some extent, where we are going. This is one of their favorite writing exercises each year.

I always share my poem, from the perspective of a mom who is now comfortable with that role and how it has shaped my life for years.

Mother

I am a mother:
distinctive in the products I make,
traditional in the methods I use.

I’ve made children:
my brush has combed five heads,
my face has carried the wrinkles of many sleepless nights.

I’ve made food:
my stove has rocked five burners,
my breasts have nourished five mouths.

I’ve made beauty:
my hands have braided locks of hair,
my mouth has delivered devoted direction.


I’ve made a home:
I’ve clothed my inhabitants with love,
my paycheck is made from smiles.

I am a mother:
distinctive in the products I make,
traditional in the methods I use.

Once the students see and understand the structure, they are usually very excited to begin.

Here is a link to Hughes’ poem: http://amandafa.blogspot.com/2007/12/negro-by-langston-hughes.html

Wash and Pray

Slice of Life 2020: Day 4

altered books
a student discusses how she made her book

The story I wanted to tell today was how much I enjoyed my students’ Altered Book Projects. Every year, after reading Romeo and Juliet, I have each student take an old book and alter it to reflect a scene and a theme from the play. I usually bring a big pile of old, low-value books to class that I’ve begged and bartered from various places like thrift stores and estate sales. Each kid selects one. Then, I show examples of altered books from previous years, give them lots of ideas and instructions and set them loose to embrace their inner artist.

They write about their projects and present them briefly to the class.

Top notch, colorful, thoughtful, and graphic are all words I’d use to describe this year’s crop of books. The symbolism was right on. One person covered a real rose in red paint and then embedded it in the pages to represent the fleeting love of the star crossed lovers. Another took a sharp knife and cut the balcony scene into the thickest part of the book. It was a true celebration of learning.

But…

The story that unfolded today was centered around the Coronavirus. So, as it turned out, a friend texted my 13-year-old to tell him that he knew a kid that had Coronavirus at another hybrid school he attended. Gabe mentioned this at dinner last night.

“Huh?” I hadn’t heard of a person in our county having the virus.

“That’s what I heard. I’m not lying,” Gabe said casually.

I went about planning my lessons last night and went to bed. Then, somewhere in the night, it was discovered by the director at my school that a young boy in our area, attending a local hybrid school had contracted the virus from his dad who somehow caught it when he was on a business trip in Italy last month.

Home school circles are small and my email blew up! Apparently there are several kids that attend both our school and the school where the infected child attends.

Thankfully, the teachers came together and implemented a plan to clean desks and tables, talk up hygiene habits, and promote the importance of staying calm. The director told those students attending the other school to refrain from coming to our school until March 12. Thankfully, that infected family has a very mild case. I did have one student who didn’t attend today due to family concerns over the virus.

For the most part though, school went on! It was great day. I told everyone, “We are going to wash and pray!” And, that’s basically what we did. These hands are chapped from all the washing and I wish I had stock in Soft Soap!

As teachers, there’s just never a boring moment. And, there’s always that need to make split second decisions which keeps us mentally youthful!

Dost Thou Feel?

Slice of Life 2019: Day 26

“Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel” Romeo says in Act III of Romeo and Juliet.

This is an important statement for us writers. To truly do a subject justice, you have to feel it, be it. Just as a pizza delivery man gets his hot pies delivered timely to folks living in his neighborhood, so my best writing is when I’m speaking of stories and experiences close to my heart.

The necklace in the photo above I wear close to my heart and it reminds me of my artistic niece. One summer, she gathered up a collection of stamps from different time periods and countries. She scattered them around a big rectangular table along with some vintage maps and papers.

“Select your favorite stamp and I’ll mount it inside a pewter and glass pendant,” she instructed.

Part good luck and part literary genius, I thought it would be fun to have an image of the Bard to wear on Shakespeare days! I have a little of Ms. Frizzle deep inside. I keep Saturn earrings and some Flannery O’Connor reading glasses around too for short story days. So, after hunting around the pile, I picked out a 5 cent US. stamp bearing the image of William Shakespeare and asked her to work her magic.

A few weeks later, when it was delivered, I opened the package, and said, “I love it!” I’ve been wearing it on special days ever since.

Today, was a special day and I wore my dandy pendant-charm to see Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Tavern with my ninth graders. Oh! That with it feel I get when I think ahead! But, nobody noticed the pendant there under my scarf and thick green sweater: “That in gold clasps locks in the golden story…” says Lady Capulet. In this case, in pewter clasps completely overlooked. But, no bother. Watching the tragedy once again with a goodly handful of 9th graders was its own reward.

I enjoyed watching their faces to see if they understood the puns and plot. Mostly they did. Shakespeare knew his audience and wrote with a passion surpassing time in relevance and influence. These modern teens still feel something when they see the anguish of a young woman being forced to comply with an overbearing parent or the desperation of a young man who has made a fatal mistake. This is the type of storytelling we strive for.