What they have to learn

The teacher hadn’t enjoyed teaching in a long while

ever since her notions and reality rubbed against one another

exploding the myth she held in teaching college, of making a difference

her students

whom the administrators asked her to refer to as clients

wanted to pay for a degree, not to learn

we don’t have time to study they lamented

we are too busy with everything else which is, so much more important

the students

did not respect her because she earned less than

they believed they would earn in a few years time

she wanted to say DREAM ON but it was no longer acceptable

to tell the truth

especially with college administrators

(who were paid well, to shuffle papers from desk to desk)

watching in the wings

she recalled why

she had wanted to be a teacher

at eight she’d been sent to a foster home

where the ‘father’ decided to show and tell

using his fingers in wrong positions

she ran away and lived

underneath a bridge for the night

listening to the stars wink on and off

and the weave and fall of the world

the next day they found her, dirty and lost

spanked her for making up lies about being abused

and sent her to another foster home

this time the mother

starved her lean

told her she was fat and ugly

when she hardly weighed in

got her to clean and cook and scrub

she preferred that kind of reality

it didn’t involve lies it was honest in its

taste of cruel

when summer was over and she returned to school

a new teacher had begun work

she had the faraway eyes of a dreamer

and her voice was soft like bird song

without saying a word she knew the children who

had been neglected and abused

she’d encourage them often and whisper in their ears

this may seem like this is all there is

but there’s so much more!

one day you will be free to escape your confines

you can shrug off your sadness and become

anything you want

so when the time came for her to age out of the system

she didn’t bring flowers and a card for her foster-mother

instead she packed her single bag and left before

morning showed in the sky

the room was bare and emptied but somehow

it didn’t look so different to when she’d lain there

trying to take up the smallest space

funny that we can inhabit a place for so many years and

when we leave it’s like we were never there

a wraith who didn’t get heard or couldn’t

break out of her little mincing trap of potted meat

she hated the flabby jowls and empty eyes

of those who pretended to keep

her safe

being old enough now to look after herself she

enrolled in teaching college hoping one day

she could reach a child who sat at the back of class

with dirty socks and a mouth full of regret

but time moves on and things change even as they stay the same

kids become hardened, demanding, insolent

hurry up, please it’s time!

parents throw expectations like rocks and call educators

pathetic losers who can’t do, so they teach

she wondered

is cruelty a vein, like in a rock

inherited over time to savage and destabilize

our yearning for safety?

standing there, in her cheap hose and one good pair of shoes

the scuff blacked out by polishing

she saw in the sassing faces of her classroom

a loss of care for changing the world

her own longing to reach through time and alter

one person’s trajectory lost

in the hustle bustle of uncaring formula

spitting out diplomas and marching forward

not thinking at all

about what they have to learn

Written for World Teacher Day. In appreciation of teachers.

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Random cruelty

Her mouth

Had a tremor

Just beneath the surface

It spoke

Of the repression of horror

If she let it out

That creature would

Climb to the highest point

And start screaming, needful not of words.

She wrapped her arms around her chest

Feeling the absence of one breast

Her mom used to say

You forgot to grow into a woman, flat chested sparrow chick

Her boyfriend liked her angularity

It’s not very Latino, her sister decried

Shaking her own ample swelling bossom

She favored simple necklines and no bra, catching soft balls with callused hand

Then why she wondered

Did my breast betray me?

I never demanded anything of her

My children did not

Tug with hungry mouths on her unduly

Nor a lover, bite unkindly deep

She felt the tight, smooth scar

Like a flat knife lain on her chest, like unwanted medal

It seemed to hotly whisper

The curling, metal irony of us all

Without sufficient power to stave

Fate’s random cruelty

(For all women)

The silent strength

Take out the trash

And as you bend to pick up stray leaves

You see him standing beneath his grief

He wears it heavy like winter wool, boiled in tears

As a man, he doesn’t have the ways of expressing

All those pent up cries

For so long, he was his only resource

Clamboring into himself even further

A boy within a man, hand over mouth

His outward smile is tinged with sadness

Nobody sees because people want to believe

In smiles more than tears

Except me

I have nothing much of myself to recommend

I couldn’t compete, I couldn’t pretend

The square jawed boys at school

Saw through me, reaching for the swan necked girls

Who purred and swam in batted eyelash lakes

And like this man, I grew up shaping myself coarsely

Sometimes doing nothing more than observing

The way we treat others less fortunate

And I came to recognize pain

As if it painted a sign or put up lights

They say comedians are often depressed

Behind the mask, underneath their wax paint

I only know I see, as he bends to loosen the hose and

Water plumes into a cloudless sky

Giving himself permission to cry behind the spray

He hugs himself with cold arms and I watch

The boy who repeated this action until

He could stand without falling

His strength is greater for his fragility

I want

To save his heart

From the cruel ways of those who say they love us

Those, they hurt the most

As if love were a weapon to be used when you get closer

Everything is upside down and the wrong way round

The grey eyed man says

I have to act the opposite of who I am

Just to tred, the thinnest bridge

I am holding empty days in my hand

And husks of dreams beneath my chest

His face mimics the pain beneath his skin

But he trembled, long enough to see

The stricken moment, like passing ghost

The man he tried to be, the loss of certitude

I told him, hope was the only way

And even

When we believe we can take no more

And even, as our last support breaks and crumbles

Abandoning us in our hour of need

When we think we have lost everything and everyone

Staring at the edge wishing we could jump

Then the wind chime is caught by stray breeze

Faraway birds call into the trees

Then the mercy of a stranger leaves

The bearest memory that once

Before grief got in her punches

Reminder of something precious

Long ago when we had faith in ourselves

The little boy he was

Standing staring at the same sorrow

Decided it wouldn’t be the direction for him

Taking everything he had, he set out

To live inspite of it all

And he did

Now with bowed head he reminds me

Of a fallen angel, wondering how

To continue to fly or purchase peace

And I touch his shoulder

When I mean to reach inside

Warm his soul and keep alive

The silent strength behind his eyes

The fragile cast 

Tell me again

To be fearless

Tell me again

To depend on myself

I am yet a child

Still holding her toy by the ear

I am feeling you give me

The hard water slap of advice

Cold on my cheek, formerly warm.

You say

It’ll toughen me up

But I already know

It has wrought the reverse

I am not

A leathered creature of your creation

I am already 

Quite changed and mangled.

Whilst you 

Suffered and carved expressions from granite

Still you were told, you were a marvel

I was weighted down only with disapprobation

And your searing brand of tough love

Tore me further without support

Gave me greater fears, made me feel alone

In a room full of sound.

You cannot rob a child of their ego before it is formed

Nor nurture one empty handed and pickpocketed

You cannot protect a child by harm

Broken is broken.

We all require, when we start in this world

The unconditional faith of others

In a look, a knowledge, some portion of belief

In the validity of us

Lifted just enough to see over the edge.

Life already begs to steal the best 

We cannot survive by being cast into fire before we learn to walk

It doesn’t forge stronger bones

We live as ash, insubstantial invalids

Longing for the strength of kindness.

Before you break a child

Think of them twenty years from now

Grown on thin gruel and scraps

We who stand in the tempest 

May appear whole

But in our essence we lack

The varnish of other’s meant to grow us tall

It is in the stained radiance 

We find the courage to face the world

Bestowed on us by those meant to protect

The fragile cast of a child.

Claim

Don’t open your chest up

let the butterflies out

burn the velvet gloves and seek to trust

hands held over hands in circles

dancing to the gravy of secure claim

Don’t risk dissolution

by the marble hands of your own family

it never gets easier

a little death upon a little death

pursed words kissing with violence

and just as you know all these things

you hang yourself by the neck

that’s the fool who is a child

keeps returning to empty chairs

all fall down

such is the rope burn

when love turns cruel

when love lets you down

family existing to crush the lotus

how then does the bloom float

something wide and spectacular

with waterlogged roots seeking ground

how then does the moon touch water?

reflecting shapes of wonder against glass

the hurt is

fierce and terrible

the tiger is

open mouthed

the knife digs

deep into sound

stars blitz like warm shower

lights echo in soft purr

you can cut me down with one word

you hold the key, you are my blood

and I love you when you hurt me

more than I should allow

how do we learn

to avoid exposure when

our wrists are bound

by family ties and emptiness

perhaps the pain is reminder

life is a knife, it can butter, it can cut

if we try we can surf

the upside more than down

like migrating streams releasing winter’s cold

 

 

The growing chronicles #4 Undone


Ageing backward

once a child

stuffed with potential

you could be burned and

engage future with the severed fearlessness of the young

who do not believe the bell will toll for them

and come a day

marked by tree rings of frigid growth

looking up at sky emptied of cloud

how cruel the season burns

secrets from the branches

 

that day

an altered girl sinks beneath bath water

marred by her loathing self

what emerges trembled in fear

keep the lights on mama

she is returning to unknowing

It is the dementia of the soul

clamoring for relief

 

her bones are no longer soft and green

they grow lean and she curls

away from herself

those days of succor and wiggle

when was the last time you touched her like a flower?

and opening she cried into you

tumbling into a shared well of blossom

 

we both wear silver in our hair now

released from knowledge, return to unknown

lying like a split pomegranate

seeds spilling out

mouths stained radiant

how did you live so long to trap yourself?

back in the box of musk and gunpowder

the lock sounds like a scythe

it is cold and unworn

opposing sides climb to the rumor

you are undone

The growing chronicles #1 Bitters


I’m too tired

dear one

to refute your love of harm

or as you put it

hard but necessary truth

just as Swedish bitters are

good for you

spare the rod, spoil the child

so you ensured I learned the hard way

 

why then

do criticisms often taste

like gunpowder?

that overwhelming urge to correct at every turn

just like you were created to hurt?

what line, invisible or seen, exists?

to guide the critic in their pursuit

of picking apart the flaw

remaking anew and improved

 

you can do better

was my Christian name

you need to apply yourself more

the nightly prayer

and being absent

my response

 

you see

tear someone down consistently and enough?

you light them on fire

they become not as you hoped

your obedient (but inferior) acolyte

but something fragmented

a faulty firework longing to explode

earthbound and simmering beneath

your superior

assault