THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poetry Friday: Endings and Beginnings

It's the first Poetry Friday of 2011 -- Happy New Year!

This year will mark many endings and beginnings for my family. Both of our children are transitioning at school. My son is deciding which high school to attend. My daughter knows all too well (from observing her brother) that middle school means big changes for her.

I am starting a new job -- really a new spoke on the wheel of my writing life.

The ending for me is that the central-Maryland-based art and literary journal, Little Patuxent Review, is losing its longtime editor, Michael Clark. For years, Michael has long distance edited from Singapore, where he's just been made head of the Singapore American School's English department. Michael is an amazing editor and I am thankful to him for being a supporter of my work.

But this is also a beginning. The folks at LPR asked me to step in as editor, beginning with the Summer 2011 issue. Being welcomed into the LPR family -- the journal is community based and operates as a collective of creative minds -- has been a humbling and joyful experience.

I asked Michael to share a poem of his own, one appropriate for the high school classroom. "The Daily Grind" reminds me of the fears and anxieties teens have about adult life.

As they transition out of high school, choosing what they will do next is, for many, the first time they consciously make a decision that has long term implications for their lives. They are facing a strange combination of I'll-conquer-the-world excitement and the fear that they will fall into a bland life, "Back to the thumbtacked cube. Back to sleep... Usher in the New Year, numb."

I hope you'll share this poem with your older teens. It would make a good jumping off point for a discussion about their hopes for the future. Consider pairing "The Daily Grind" with Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day" for a contrasting point of view.

The Daily Grind

by Michael R. Clark


Suddenly it’s June, or Thursday,
And all to snatches of an old tune
About possible pasts the creek’s trickled
By. How many times have been the last --
Or no more -- or never again -- the fear
That one’s life is being portrayed on television.
But there’s no muscle there. Just skeletal scripts.
Transgressing the unwritten. Driving on the spare.
That’s all just dead people laughing, whatever
You hear. The spent bulb’s sugared with dust,
The tiny clink of the broken filament
Like the struggle of a cricket in a steel sink
Way past the end of summer.
Who decides if your heart will break or bend?
Yesterday’s puddles glazed with subzero ice.
The mind boggles. The windshield’s befuddled.
Trembling in the rearview: all the old selves.
The old loves. Where’s this highway lead to?
Back to the thumbtacked cube. Back to sleep.
Wool-pulling. Usher in the New Year, numb.
Don’t you sell me what’s cruellest.
I’ll shop for it. A footprint. An eggshell.
The median’s littered with bolts and shoes.
Thirteen steps from curb to door. In the hedge, a titter.
The bulldozer idles at the cemetery’s verge:
Matrimony. Matriculation. Rehearsals. Recitals.
The stub’s worn slippery tip dangles on its string.
Requesting the honour. Unseen in the periphery
We’re blowing past the exit. A blasphemous hour
Poorly spent. Boards clap and walk; the last
Hangs like an uprooted tooth. In the dark ward,
Erosion has worked its slow undoing. Rubbery shoots
Weren’t there yesterday: ideas were their souls.
Even the ivories can’t signal what it means to play.
The locomotive press of the Labrador’s pant
Chugs across the hardwood. Is this the address?
No one by that name. Paper cut. Please. Forward.
A town where every intersection looks the same
But the circle you follow is never quite there—
A tectonic drift of asphalt and paint. Sprawl and swallow.
Deaf to the motor’s roar, the muffler’s drag, see the fault
Split the glass like a Cheshire grin, the crumby floor,
Until: a nylon blur, a vinyl plaster, Bond-o, rusty fissure.
Valuable advertising minutes. Pinched arteries. Disaster.
Grainy video tic. Flashbulbs at the finish.
Yap and chatter—reality, every day, more idiotic.
Stranded on the cell, sweep of lights, a flat:
The tire iron dead and heavy. Just keep
On driving. The salt and sand grind. Ahead,
Is that sunlight’s Monet smear on the asphalt?
Don’t look: suddenly it’s June. Or Thursday.

Posted with permission of the author.

Thanks to Irene at Live. Love. Explore! for hosting the Poetry Friday party today.

13 comments:

Alison Stevens said...

What a great poem! Congratulations on your new editorial position. I hope it brings you happiness and just enough challenge to keep you on your toes. Happy new year!

Author Amok said...

It is a rich poem -- much to talk about.

Thanks for the good wishes, Alison. I think "just enough challenge" is the key phrase.

Irene Latham said...

"Who decides if your heart will bend or break?" Love that! Also, what a great idea to pair with Mary Oliver (whom I will hear read in Atlanta at the end of this month. YAY!). Congratulations on your new beginnings.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Irene. Lucky you -- enjoy Mary Oliver's reading and tell us all about it!

That's a beautiful line. I love the whole section on television and the canned laughter. The poem balances humor with a deep sense of sadness.

Toby Speed said...

Congratulations on your new editorial post, Laura! This wonderful poem brings back the teen experience for me both in details and rhythm. "Is this the address? No one by that name. Paper cut. Please. Forward." "Like the struggle of a cricket in a steel sink." ""Boards clap and walk; the last hangs like an uprooted tooth." "Trembling in the rearview: all the old selves."

Michael's imagery takes the inside and brings it outside. Thanks for sharing it today.

Tabatha said...

Hi Laura!

I feel like I could spend all day working my way through that poem. So much there.

All the best to you and yours as you make your transitions this year!

Author Amok said...

Thanks Toby and Tabatha. This would be a great one to share with a HS AP English class or in an adult workshop. I'd be interesting in discussing how the poet overwhelms the reader with images without the poem itself feeling out of control. That takes mastery.

Danuta Hinc said...

Happy New Year, Laura!

susanwrites said...

oooh...love the image "sugared with dust,"


Congratulations on your new job! They are lucky to have you.

Doraine Bennett said...

Congratulations on the new position, Laura. It sounds like a wonderful situation. I love the last line of this poem. I felt that way last week when my husband and I pulled out calendars and suddenly there were things planned for August! Thanks for sharing.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Susan and Doraine.

The last line speaks to me, too. Sometimes the ritual/habitual things we do (like brushing teeth) get me down. That's where this poem hits me.

jama said...

Congratulations, Laura! Have fun as editor :).

Thanks for sharing Michael's poem. Like the nitty grittiness of it.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

To me the most amazing thing among the many amazing bits of this post is "For years, Michael has long distance edited from Singapore." There is a feeling of doors and windows closing and opening,"all the old selves./The old loves.Where's this highway lead to?"

Happy New Year, Laura, and congratulations to both you and Michael.