52 Poems: Week 4 Edna St. Vincent Millay

I read Savage Beauty, Nancy Milford's biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, during grad school and although it wasn't one of my favorite books her life story has stayed with me. So to prepare for PEN Emerging Voices poet Kima Jones' lessons on sonnets I read this one. I think Milllay's sad regret will appeal perfectly to my middle schoolers.

What My Lips Have Kissed, And Where And Why
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Photo by Tom Haxby.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands a lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet know its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.


52 Poems: Week 3 Richard Blanco

I love when poetry captures a moment and today as I watched President Obama take his oath and the pomp and circumstance which surrounded it, as Kiara toddled around the images of this diverse country surrounding her, this poem brought tears to my eyes. I love the second and fifth stanzas in particular... 

One Today
Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem. 

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day. 

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.


52 Poems: Week 2 Walt Whitman

Gantt and I will go see Lincoln before it leaves theaters, and with that, my poem this week...

O Captain! My Captain
Walt Whitman

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.


Back to School Wishes for 2013

We started the second semester today and after a restful winter break it was good to be back. I really enjoy my job and my students. So, to start class today we wrote some of our wishes for the new year. My students wrote about superpowers, season tickets on Hawaiian Airlines, and dates with Justin Bieber.

I wrote along with them, as I always do, and during third period I wished an anonymous donor would make-over our school giving us a turf field, a new gym, and clean classrooms with working heat and air conditioning. I reread this and felt so sad. This was not a wish. These basics are things our school should have right now.

I also wished that Obama would say, "Forget all this testing. Let's make learning fun again." But I don't need Obama to do that. Despite the number of days we are required to spend taking district and state mandated tests (about three weeks) I know my students and I are having fun and we're learning.

There is so much talk about testing and achievement in our schools. There is even more talk about reform and how our schools have to change. I've been an educator for over 15 years and despite the bleak picture many paint of public education in the US, I know in classrooms and schools everywhere, despite all of the noise, teachers are teaching, students are learning, and it's going to be a good year.


52 Poems: Week 1 Maya Angelou

For 2013, I've decided to post a poem week, read it every day, and possibly commit it to memory. I hope these bits of language might inspire my writing, but mostly I just long for some structure to sharpen my mind and carve my tongue around words. Here is my first...

The Lesson
By Maya Angelou
Baby Kiara's sleeping fist...

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.