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.

You will lose

Lg_image_of_scolds_bridleThe glitterati

the critics

the populists

said

you will lose if

you write about Israel instead of Palestine

if you speak of Republicans not Democrats

if you emphasize feminism over patriarchy

if you ask why reverse racism isn’t decried with equal equality?

if you don’t apply fake tan by Spring

if you don’t die your roots when white scream shows through

if you say no to invitations to museum openings

if you don’t pretend you like fish chowder in New England

you will lose

if you can’t fake an orgasm

if you can’t pretend to be happy

if you can’t do a 5K and apply the bumper sticker

if you want more than a box with four corners

if you need truth over societal cacophony

if you pick staying home over social gatherings

Oh god, home, the empty temple of feathers

if you read a book that’s not on Oprah’s list

if you don’t like Jane Austin or Billy childish

if you approve of Brexit

if you want peace but also believe

sometimes in war

if you need a fix and everybody has been juicing since 2004

if you still smoke in your mind if not in your hand

If you bathe rather than shower and eat figs with unwashed hands

if you like drunks and melt-downs and unwell folk

over gyms and workaholics and hipster beards

if you don’t think a woman over 50 is invisible

If you want to touch her like this, just here, yes

if you don’t believe in knee-jerk vaccinations for HPV

if you think Shingles is a symptom of grief as much as

an arms worth of plague

if you like honey more than jam

you will lose if

you don’t shave into a triangle or wax

if you try to grow daffodils instead of cacti in the desert

if you don’t get your flaws frozen off at the secret dermatologist

if you gave up wearing push up bras when they hurt

Hey boys, get a life

if you didn’t remember all the eighties top hits nor cared for boy george

if you read instead of talk with your mouth full

if you don’t want to retail and you buy second-hand

if you think the planet should depopulate not reproduce

if you think choice

isn’t a dirty word

if you think rape

can happen anywhere

if you believe justice

is owned by man

if you think cars

cost too much and clog up the landscape

you will lose

by opting out of the din of most social media platforms

you will lose decrying our

infernal need for attention,  narcissism

and selfishness abounding

you will lose when you go on vacation

and see only the misery of the local

starved by tourists expectation,  fired upon your return for taking time off and not taking your phone

you will lose when you expect small talk

to be vanquished and long conversations

about life to resume

don’t wait for the bleep

don’t hold your breath

don’t anticipate

accept

that sometimes you must lose

in order to see

clearly

 

Recommendations for healing from a distance

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I told a compassionate jurist once, the recipe for understanding the anxious at heart:

the most disturbing clamor, is that of positivities drum

it beats loudly outside their chamber

be grateful for life it proclaims

illuminating sub-text running a ticker tape parade

if you are not grateful you are a bad person

 

for we know, the anxious will always examine

the inverse and underside

as they themselves are examined and categorized

if you say well at least be glad you are not dead

they will consider all those who seek life

so desperately and why they

who remain unsure at water’s edge

do not perish instead

(take my place! take my place!) (what crimes exist within our fates!)

if you say well, it could be much worse

they will consider all the terrible things that can occur

and condemn themselves for any pain

 

it is the nature of the anxious mind to examine

things in detail

so when they’re told to be happy

go to the gym every day and wash your hair

eat right, socialize even when you feel quiet

through positive action you can get a handle on what ails you

the inverse message reads

and if you still feel sad or anxious afterward you are to blame

it is that sub-text that haunts the most

cure is the curse is the cure is the curse

maybe if it were not seen as elective

subj-text: I choose to feel this way

torn into pieces flayed by wolves

a part of me wants to live like this

how absurd

would we say that of someone with cancer?

you know you want this disease! You brought it on yourself!

 

ironically depressed and anxious souls make

good bed fellows

when they say misery loves company it is a judgement

wedged between passive and aggressive

you choose to intensify your downfall is the implication

but in truth

those who will reach for you in the darkness and say

come take my hand I will walk with you and light the way

are many times those least equipped to do it

often it will not be those who think themselves compassionate

they will stand on the fringe and shout

recommendations for healing from a distance

as if the leper who cannot be touched

must stand apart and die in a new brand of isolation

 

the divisions of the haves and have-nots

contributions to misery

like tossing a penny in a well and making a wish

is not as good as causing that wish to come true

by actions

not scolds

not rebukes

Children with no reflection

girl-fishingMy feet were always too big for vintage shoes

granny said

girl you’re outgrowing your ancestors

measured my 1980’s girth with pokered face

disgracing corselet historians with modern gait

I never was the black-eyed-girl of my father’s heart

his own ungainly DNA bore him a chip off the old block

who knew his self-loathing would rub free like lint

on the broad shoulders of imperfect kin

you’ve no delicacy in your frame girl

your hands are too wide for these kid gloves

you cannot fit into the stays and confines of the past

where did you come from? changeling?

half and half in one world and the next

part girl part boy part aberration an inverse

it was easier to steal a pair of dungarees

climb the old knobbly willow tree

dropping apple pips in indigo pond

a disappointing girl with one eye patched lest it wander

I saw my delicate mother and her child’s form

rush like a dancer into applauding future

gone from those who would love her best

she left a horse hair brush that smelt of her skin

and I did not know what to be

standing there with my unliked shell of pallor

a mockery of fallen relations between two lovers

retreating to the verge of attention their child

I waited until nobody expected me home

muddied, stained and bramble scratched

children with no reflection

if you asked me then whom I loved the most

I would have pointed to the owl

grand in his luminous white feathers

for he saw the little girl’s disappointment

and together they sang

low into night

to beckon timorous vole

closer