Although I see myself as primarily an essayist, almost exactly a year ago, a poem came to me. I was immersed, as always, in the world of my family, whom I love more than anything in the world and on whose behalf I work continually to make the world a better place. I was immersed, as always, in the world of my students, a close second to my family. I was immersed, as always, in the world of my online friends and virtual colleagues, who were at that time bracing for what did in fact prove to be an unprecedented assault on public education, with standardized testing as the weapon of choice. And I was immersed in the glorious poetry of Taylor Mali.
So one day in Humanities class, a poem came to me, and I knew right away I could not let it go. Franny, an 8th grader, described the experience perfectly at the Poetry Festival on Thursday night when she asked poet Peggy O’Brien if “words flow out of your pen and arrange themselves on the page.” To growing astonishment, I watched my poem appear on the screen in more or less its final form. It is named for the portion of class in which it was written,
So I look over and see her sitting against the wall,
legs sticking out in front of her, crossed,
her left foot slowly rocking back forth,
head slightly tilted to one side,
staring off into the distance.
And I think, “Next.”
But she will have to wait unknowingly for me,
because someone else is looking at me now,
the flame lit in her eyes crackling gently behind her words as she describes the book she’s reading
her hand resting on top of it like it’s her best friend and they have big weekend plans,
maybe an overnight,
talking to each other as the hours fly
And she finishes,
and I say, “Sounds interesting. I wonder what’s going to happen next.”
And before I know it,
she’s off in the realm of possibilities;
as she finishes telling me her predictions,
her eyes flutter repeatedly down to the book
and I take the hint and rise, telling her, “Let me know how it comes out. I might want to read this one myself.”
And I head over to the girl with the stare who sees me coming and says,
“I’m trying to decide what to write my poem about.”
And I measure my response as I sit down, and say,
“Are you looking for ideas or choosing between ideas?”
“Choosing between ideas. My first idea? Is kind of? About this person?”
And I think on Taylor Mali, whose poem “Speak With Conviction” this girl loved when she watched it on YouTube the other day in class.
And the periods return to her voice as she describes her second idea,
and I know what she has decided
but don’t know if she knows yet.
As I take a breath to speak words I pray will come,
she smiles and says,
reaching already for her notebook,
“The second idea, I think.”
And I smile too, and say,
“Yes.” to all of the above.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean