Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Teaching, Daily Life, Keeping On

After being away from normal routine this weekend—on a "writing retreat" that was silent, too—I am noticing that normal routine in some way feels easier than before the weekend. I don't know if that has to do with just getting distance from the way the everyday mundane things have a way of weighing me down, or if it's because my partner is gone and I still have all this space at home for another kind of 'retreat', or if there's something not quite as nameable that comes from even a little respite. On the other hand, it's just kind of horrifying how quickly the noise and business and distractions fill in space when I let it, and that's what happens—some of these so-called chores are just distraction, hubbub, and empty activity.

My students this fall have humbled me; most of the 20 people in the Kresge Core class that I'm teaching have arrived at UC against unbelievable odds—a handful are the first in their families to go to college, some are spending their weekends back home caring for family farms or disabled siblings, others only learned English when they were 8, 9, 10, and still feel sort of stuck between two universes. Today one young woman had been present and engaged during the whole class, asked me a good, clear question when we were finished at the end of class, gathered her things, and by the time I was out the door a few minutes later, she was on her phone on her balcony, crying almost uncontrollably to the person on the other end. I remember how it was to be that age. I remember and I don't always want to, although I still feel that I was lucky because of the friends -- some long lost, some still in my life -- I met at UCSC that helped me make sense of a world that had suddenly and radically gotten much, much bigger. Some days when I am not totally hoofing through a lesson or racing to catch up with my own assignments for my students, I know I strive to be that person to some of them.


I found this little list poem this weekend which I wrote in June.

Things I Have Put My Faith In

Barack Obama
The genuine good of my colleagues
My sister's ability to take it one day at a time
(My sister's faith)
Friends' shoulders and embraces even when I feel I have nothing to offer in return
My cat's nine lives.
My lover's longevity (and his faithfulness)
His faith in me.
The soil around my home and its health, in the face of acute disease.
The green thumb I got from grandfathers I didn't know.
Four distinct seasons
(which need):
People in the U.S. committing to sacrifice for others, or the seasons are history
My friends' commitments to bring creativity into this world.
My lover's hands, even when he's gone.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"My body knows things my brain has no idea about"

"My body knows things my brain has no idea about"
Title from a line by Heather McGowan in The Duchess of Nothing

(Note: I don't think of this as a "finished poem", but rather as riffing off the line mentioned above. But nor do I think only "finished" things should be shared--it's all about keeping the wheel turning).

My body knows things.
Like: how to pet the cats
What to do with the root-bound plant
And how hard to shake it
How the soup will taste and
Why it should taste that way—

I am like a Volkswagen-sized leatherback turtle,
Climbing out of the tide and up the beach where she was born,
Finding a spot in which to bury her eggs—
Hundreds of them, ping pong ball size—
Some of which will hatch babies that in turn
Will have to figure out where the ocean is
And how to make it there
Scuttling across sand in morning sun
Hoping to escape a predator's hand.

I am like the albatross, courting, clack clack clacking
In a dance of fidelity, catching the female's eyes
And convincing her to partake, to dance back,
Two coquettes, unending their mating ritual
For minutes upon minutes upon minutes,
Somehow knowing it needs to last
In order to mean something lifelong.