Those Who Can

No Contractions

why go through the trouble
shoving together ideas at odds
–can and not–

the lightning tipped apostrophe
is contracting
chance into paralysis
because industry contracts
economy contracts
The world of can’t cracks and collapses

no
humans stretch
people explore
students can
can is an opus
constructing
illustrating
teaching

there is nowhere to hide behind can
you may not cower in your doubts
you may not avoid the work to be done

convincing yourself
you can’t now
means you won’t tomorrow

when you can analyze literature
it means you will write it

say I can examine my life as a journey
and someday you will be someone’s hero

if you can’t
then don’t

but come back to my classroom
after you have calculated all the wasted time
troubling with the odds

and you are tired of missing your chances


A shout out to the famous Taylor Mali poem to frame today’s effort! If you have never seen this, please watch this and many more videos of this amazing poet’s work.

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Eulogy for Education

(Inspired by Audre Lorde’s Eulogy for Alvin Frost)

I.
I am tired of writing memorials for their dreams
tired of them disappearing

one time a young girl catalyzed her peers
to walk out in support of a teacher
who taught for students
and not administrivia

the teacher was let go at the end of the year
regardless
the student dropped out the next fall

and I saw you growing tired too

II.
it was rarely roses with you anyhow.

I teach a remarkable new people—
these first generation high school graduates
with grandparents who had first languages beaten out of them
and so my students have less stories now.

and when separate was equal
the barbs of police batons contained
that colorless synonym for negro
beaten into a next generation.

too often
there is no way
to unravel your thorns
for my students.

III.
I am done with you as the cold blank monolith

once an 11th grader came to my door
with a 2nd grade reading level
after many schools and many Ds (not Fs)

and we tested him

his data unveiled a case of neglect
and oversight too absurd for criminality
but too common for education

IV.
I heard them on the television speaking of a resurrection
but I do not believe it:

this pale Lazarus lifeless and dull
made more dull with the ash of the rising place.

they speak of second coming
omitting how they were the ones hollowing

you. they hoped I would mourn you
and pray for a moment like this

new gospel.
they are selling something I cannot believe.

V.
I love showing students their data
because it helps them make sense of themselves.

but we let data speak alone
when we know damn well
too many schools forget

to teach students
to speak for themselves.

VI.
perhaps we should have let go sooner.
it would have been easier if we had torn down
those schools. we never should have closed them.
we all would have been forced then

to revision,

to hold stake.
imagine if we built
gardens in every vacant classroom window
and planetariums of our cavernous gyms.

VII.
I remember my greatest days
on a mountain trail with fourteen teenagers

or on the shore of a lake
ready to throw away stones we had painted

with our burdens and carried
for a week. you were with me visiting

ruins near the lava field
when we learned about seeing land

like an owl, returning to school
with a different sense of sight:

we are better humans with all-sides-eyes.
I will always hold the borderplaces

where people I have met stitch the sutures
of our coming together

and ripping apart.

you were a stunning companion.

Mr. Test has a Job Interview

the blazerandslacks ensemble
does not impress me. 
something about that starched collar screams constrictively tight
and those wingtips are awful
shiny.

I'm afraid you have no style
and teachers have panache in their DNA.
you're all methodology,
too system for swag, 
so much polish and not enough person.

what's that?
        you have never stood in front of a classroom before?
yeah

this place does not suit you

Dear Failure

the afternoon you went to the track supporting
the student with Down Syndrome
speed walking his way to the Special Olympics
silver medal

every time you found a way
to complete an assignment at home
after prepping dinner for your kindergarten sister

when you said thank you
in the situation screaming for your selfishness

every time you asked that question everyone was too scared to pose

that day you asked how to express
your feelings on a page
even though you were sure
no one cared to know

the morning your letter from prison arrived
and you asked me to read it
with the at-risk students

remember when we cried with your mother and grandmother
about your father’s passing

the class you learned to navigate a dictionary

the day you snuck into my classroom
and left a poem on the table
about the bullied black hair girl
fighting for tomorrow

when you wrote a paragraph for the first time
and it didn’t matter ten years of education
hadn’t taught you yet

the one time you cleaned the trash in your neighborhood
and made a mural of our heartlessness

the moment you realized your anger is no match for your laughter

you passed the test

Short Answer Response Deviation (March 3 Revision)

For your short answer response portion of the test, be sure to contain your answer
within the box provided. You have twenty minutes to develop a correct response.

Check me as I copy Dr. Dre’s verse from ‘Today was a Good Day’
I’ll sketch cartoons of adults outside laughing and free
I’m fixin on a pie chart to chart π in a racecar

I will compose my essay Beautiful Mind style across the edges
of a double helix spiraling into a black hole

I am writing the biography of my grandmother, the woman of no
schooling, the gardener of no pesticides, the curandera of no antibiotic

Me I’m gonna decoupage the school in test booklets
I will redraft the Treaty of Bosque Redondo and sign my name X
Can’t stop me from punching braille if they feed me blind lines

I got enough time to graffiti this test this runaway train
this subway caboose shining silver with my graphite truth

I will dare poetry into existence breathing bonfires of this paper
sending the ash on a wind to those family trees still standing

Short Answer Response Brainstorm

I will compose my essay Beautiful Mind style across the edges
of a double helix spiraling into a black hole

I am writing the biography of my grandmother, the woman of no
schooling, the gardener of no pesticides, the curandera of no antibiotic

Check me as I copy Cube and Dre’s ‘Today was a Good Day’
How many pages of my fantasy novel do you think they’d understand
I’m fixin on a pie chart to chart π

I wonder how hard it’d be using pointillism to express
a response of the proctor’s resemblance with Barack

Surely, Ms. Dickinson would appreciate a modern take on the airiness,
the levity concerning this context of ‘There’s a Certain Slant of Light

Me I’m gonna decoupage the school in test booklets
I will redraft the Treaty of Bosque Redondo and sign my name X
Can’t stop me from punching braille when they feed us blind lines