Reasons to believe

December 5, 2008

  1. I posted some photos online from the high school poetry workshop I taught last summer, which continues to burn in my mind. I’m glad that I waited to post the photos until the cascade of other photos from the students were through, until they were well into their semesters at school, and maybe had forgotten some of the smaller moments. When I did this, T. posted a comment, to the effect of  “I’m literally in tears,” how much he missed everybody, and how “professional” he thought the class was compared some other folks he’s working with now. Never expected that. So amazed to know that his memory of how the group dynamic turned out is so rosy. It really did turn out pretty great at the end–the kids got past their differences and learned to work in spite of them. But woooooooo…we had our moments.
  2. A day or two later, A. texted me to thank us for teaching the class, and to let me know that he had won a contest at some youth arts conference in Wisconsin with one of the poems that he’d written in our program over the summer.
  3. Then T. sent me a message: I still think about u. U r the sun exploding in my soul. I ment to thank u b cuz I’m realizing how much of not only a better poet but person u molded me to b. Keep ur head up and wash your hair. (He’s referencing a line from “All She Wrote” by Harryette Mullen–“Wash your wet hair?”, a poem we read over the summer).
  4. E. and I (as well as A. and I) have been braiding poetry back and forth, at their request, since the workshop ended. E. just asked if I would record some of the poems with him for his new album. I also found out that he started poetry braids with A., and another classmate of his.
  5. I saw E. perform the other night, and he said, “Thanks for keeping me writing!” I–kind of flabbergasted–said, “No, thanks for keeping me writing!” He said that he misses poetry and hasn’t been getting enough.

It just never occurred to me what a lasting effect this workshop would have on the kids, kind of a ripple effect of new collaborations, new work, and relationships that are ongoing. I’m thankful that I get a little snapshot from them every once in a while of what’s going on (who’s been accepted to what college, who’s working on a student newspaper, who’s performing…). It isn’t often that, as a teacher, I get to see what my kids are like in the time after I’ve worked with them, and to even imagine whether the work has had any impact on them or not. I don’t flatter myself that I’ve played a vital part–the students I worked with last summer are really talented, full of initiative, and by and large extremely hard-working–they’ll find opportunities regardless. But just hearing from them and getting the thanks, knowing that they’re doing well, encourages me in the middle of what has been a long and challenging fall…the kids I have right now are fabulous, but there are so many of them. The poems are amazing, but I only have 40 minutes a pop, and I see about 180+ kids at each of the two schools where I’m a poet-in-residence. Also I have a lot of after-school work at the moment, which has its plusses, but, quite frankly, much of the time can be an uphill battle in terms of working with the schools and getting kids in the door. In-school work is still probably one of my favorite places to be, because I know I have an impact, I have a captive audience, and I can reach a lot of kids.

I’m just glad to know it matters.



October 22, 2008

A message exchange regarding my Facebook status change to “Rachel is HOPE NOT FEAR HOPE NOT FEAR HOPE NOT FEAR.
J: “your status is the same as the phrase of my mantra over the last year or so….i really do have to repeat it to myself out loud sometimes. one time, in a particularly freaky freak-out, i wrote ‘unafraid’ on the inside of my wrist with a permanent marker…

everything ok?”

ME: “Yes, okay. We’re always broke, which wears on a person and keeps stalling us in weird and frustrating spots. It wears on us and I can’t help but feel like it’s a burden on our families and the people around us.

People, like people I love and am friends with, are doing things like calling a decent politician with a good hopeful message (who happens to be a believer) a terrorist in order to try to elect someone who is pro-life/is Republican/plays on their fears. That wears on me. Those are two things. Hope, not Fear, is sort of Obama-esque (Obamian?), I think, it’s part of the zeitgeist of the times, but I have to remind myself that nothing changes for us, that message is the message of Jesus really, and is why it resonates so much, I just have to keep going as if the road is going to be under my feet. So it goes.”

How can I put into words

August 19, 2008

that you’ll understand?

I’ve been trying to explain the last few days of this class, people ask me about it, and like, “Oh yeah, how

was that?”

And it’s like they’re asking about a semester abroad, like asking about one’s semester in Senegal, in Russia

or Spain or Beijing, and they ask, and the next moment

the moment when I start to speak, their eyes frost over, float overhead

and it only takes three or four words to do it. What is the story,

what are the three or four words that will keep your eyes on mine,

that will explain some of the beauty of these twenty faces,

that will catch some of the shine of the moment when Alex said to me, “It was so much fun,”

when we were saying goodbye and I don’t remember what everybody said

and it doesn’t matter because it wouldn’t sound like anything anyway


they catcalled down the street

for about half a block

to make me laugh as I cried into Ben’s arm

for this summer that I can’t articulate to you

(Greystone porch, Logan Square, around 6 p.m. R is sitting on the right-hand ledge of the front porch, and Pedro is fooling around on the other ledge. He’s wearing plaid pajama pants and canvas slip-ons.)

P: I can climb all the way up to the porch from down here. (Climbing iron fence)

R: Be careful!

P: Why do you keep saying that?

R: Because, UHHH, the fence has big spikes on it, and it’s a long fall, and if you made a mistake and fell you would get hurt and I would get upset…and your mom, and your dad would be upset, and your sister, and Frankie…

P: (Hauling himself over the side of the porch) Frankie would!

R: Yeah, of course he would! Wouldn’t you be upset if Frankie got hurt?

P: (Scooting down ledge, swinging his legs over) I’d be upset with whoever pushed him!

Nasturtium, 6/24/2008

July 22, 2008

looking in

The other day I picked a bunch of nasturtium and Swiss chard and gave it to my neighbor S, giving him a little advice about how to use it.
In other news, possibly related, possibly not, I’ve been noticing that lately, when I go to retrieve my laundry from the dryer, I’ve been finding it on top of the machine, neatly folded. I’m pretty sure it’s S.

Jarvis. Pitchfork. Yes.

July 22, 2008

The first minute of Jarvis Cocker performing “Black Magic” at Pitchfork 2008.


July 20, 2008

It’s looking like Carol’s son, age 12, will be staying in Minnesota with a couple we found there who wants to take care of him. They are well-off and kind and active and have a nice house near a lake with good schools and a skate park nearby. They also have older sons, so they’ve been to that show, as it were. And he’ll have brothers, which is great.

After one of the neighbors found out that he was going to be living there, they rounded up all the neighborhood kids at once and showed up at the house to meet him, sort of an impromptu getting-to-know-you party. I think the attention did him good. He made friends with a 13-year-old boy right away.

He hadn’t had much to say about his mom since it all went down. But after a few days of living with this couple, he showed up at their room in the night, tapped on the door, and told them that he missed his mom. He cried and talked, for the first time. They told him he could come and talk whenever he felt that way. I’m so grateful to know that he’s capable of attaching like that, that everything he’s been through hasn’t left him to fiercely independent at too young an age, as the adult sphere of his world has–at times–been so dark and frightening, here today, gone tomorrow. It would have been easy for him to turn out differently. But he hasn’t.