School Poems

The air in study hall was thick with the smoke of pencils,

Scribbling to find fire on the page, ten teenagers

Looking for love in the smile their words might make.


Over in the library, some have rolled their sleeves,

Bent over a row of screens,

Their hurried breaths gyrating the pinwheels of their poems

As their fingertips clicked like cleats on the pavement of their laptops,

Letters dripping on documents,

A thousand rain drops on an old tin roof.


I walked past the boy on the steps with a halo of reverb

Plugged in from ear to ear, connected to a phone synced to his heart,

Drumming his palms against his knees like his life

Had been lived only for this moment, the wild abandon

Of one who’d learned to walk the plank

As the pirates of passion loomed behind him with their thick beards

And blades sharpened

As if to say, “Rock this one out or you’ll sleep in the ocean.”


The girl in the courtyard crooked one leg behind the other,

Curling her fingers around her phone in the cold

Like she knew the next message he sent would make her warm.

So she bubbled her poetry in blue, mailed it on the airwaves, and waited for his ellipses,

Three dots in Morse before three words she longed to read.


Down the hall, the kindergarteners knelt outside their classroom,

Upturning waxy bags of crayon and a dozen safety scissors,

Peeling the ghosts of Elmer’s glue from their palms

As they told their parents they loved them

With a red construction heart and a firm crease in the center,

A greater declaration of devotion than any sonnet could ever sing.


So I kept walking briskly in the air of this century

Where people still write poetry, breaking pieces of their body

Like bread for summer swans

And pressing them deep into a dozen syllables,

The friction of pounding feet and chattering teeth

As they toss their own words into the rushing waters of time.


A poem to my students…

I wonder if it’s a sonnet,

The poem of your life,

As I hear your shoes squeak their stanzas across the floor to your desk

And you click your blue mechanical pencil

Twice to take a quiz.


For I happened to notice two index cards,

Like a light pink couplet,

Tucked beneath the tidy layers of your notebook

As you closed your eyes, breathed, reassured yourself

Of what you knew and filled your name at the top.


Or do you live and breathe in music,

All elbows and gym bags, your fingers

Twitching steadily the edges of your sweatshirt?

Perhaps your life is a lyric, a rhythm

Kept in meter by the beat of basketballs,

Or the wild and fearless drummings of your

Feet along the track?


Or you, there in the far row,

Do you see the world in free verse?

Eyes bright from gazing through kaleidoscopes,

Bending the sky around your ballpoint pen?

From here I see your frenzied scribbling in that beat-up journal,

The back of your homework, the length of your arm,

Scrambling to seize your swelling thoughts,

Your echoing afterthoughts,

Your madcap fever of creativity.


And I bet hers is a ballad, a song,

Her eyes telling the fear in the horizons,

Dreaming of afternoon, of evening,

Of the time she’ll spend with her father

Before his illness takes a turn.


Whatever they are,

These poems in your mouths, your hands, your smiles,

They somehow fit each one of you, like shadows

Filled with beauty and, ironically,

With light.


And when I am old,

Beyond the reach of my podium,

My pen, my worn and dog-eared Hamlet,

I will see you all,

Again and again and again,

As young as autumn leaves

Reddening, then leaping

Into the constant winds of change.

The Falling Down in Moving Forward

Recently, I decided to post an old article I had written for my college newspaper in 2009 called Feed the Birds. In this post, I dusted off a piece of writing from my past in hopes that it could speak again these six years later with new strength and relevance. The response and feedback I received was overwhelmingly encouraging, enough so to prompt me to resurrect another one and bid it walk among us. So, thank you for sharing my blog and letting me know that you have been inspired, encouraged, or rejuvenated by the words I write and those I have written long ago. 


Yesterday, I saw someone trip on the front lawn. Of course, when it happened I kept my face forward to help maintain the illusion that no one saw it, but I certainly did. I was walking toward my eight o’clock class, and I happened to look over by the bell tower where I saw it all happen.

He was keeping a quick pace as he shuffled through some papers, hurriedly preparing for class in AV Wood [a building on campus], when his left foot snagged an uneven part of the hill. The rest of the fall was classic in form – he stumbled a few steps, juggling his books and papers, and threw out his arm to brace himself against the ground.

This whole scene stayed with me throughout the day, making me wonder just what it means to fall down. For many of us, falling down carries a certain negative connotation, eliciting thoughts of pain and embarrassment. We consider tripping in public to be absolutely humiliating while ignoring a rather important fact: everyone has done it. Everyone falls down; everyone makes mistakes.

As is true for many things in life, there lies a certain beauty in this because without falling down, there is no getting back up again. As Dickens claims, without the pain of parting, we could not experience the joy of meeting again. Somehow falling down is necessary to human life simply for the moment of standing back up. We see this most honestly in the form of trial and error, the unforgettable hand-on-a-hot-stove experiences. In essence, that is a large part of what makes us human. We do not rely simply on atavistic instincts to govern where we step next; rather, we carry a pair of balances at our side like a slingshot, constantly ready to decide, choose, and take action. Constantly ready to succeed or fail.

Since we are a fallen people, our decisions can never flaunt a perfect track record; failures and mistakes are imprinted into our very blood. However, this flaw must not lead us down a road of despair and apathy. Our mistakes allow us the chance to grow; they provide us something to look back to and, subsequently, something to learn from. Even in falling down, there is forward motion. There is still progress in the process.

Luckily, it is by falling down that we most honestly learn how to get back up, to keep moving, and to renew our focus. Generally after someone trips, he walks a bit clearer, much more keenly aware of his surroundings and his gait. He takes his steps with more purpose and carries his things a bit more securely. Our lives are no different. With each mistake we make, with each bumbling, embarrassing plummet, we are provided the chance to pull back up and continue to move forward. We are given the gift of resilience, the chance to pick back up, brush off the dust, and press on, even if it is just to make it to class on time.