Friday, January 29, 2010

Existential Diner

I once had a meal at a diner
where a botched order became a reminder:
For what you ask, you may not get--
In meals and in life. Still,
treat that server a little kinder.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Late December

Solstice passed,
a turning toward the light,
yes, surely, despite the heavy,
frozen air this morning--
exhaust gases ghost dance as
traffic on Route 9 slows for the bus.

I look east, at the slight sliver of
warm light edging the clouds
over the Taconics and Berkshires.
The low hills are a sleeping woman,
on her side, soft curves
under rumpled blankets.
That supine form, her landscape of curves
rising from the plain of her warm bed.
“Spoonful” plays, and Jack sings
Some of them cries about it…
some of them dies about it…

and Eric’s woman tone answers,
the electric shaman channeling his siren
through wood and steel, maybe the oldest
moan of all.

Somewhere, she sleeps,
hills low on the horizon,
telescoped to me through the low morning
light leaping, magnified, like last night’s
three-quarter moon—
waxing or waning, can’t be sure.

Apple trees, closer, just off the road, in neat rows,
evenly spaced by a careful eye.
Fruit, leaves gone, their bare trunks
and branches in tortuous, serpentine shapes
in the cold, dry air—waiting out the winter
and the sun’s low arc.

And what of shifting seasons?
Utterly fruitless or simply fallow?
I can still taste the summer, that
Honeycrisp in my gloved hand.
Is that enough?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Sprint

the last 1000 meters
a right turn, a rider in front of me
I’m on his wheel like eight inches behind
blurry eyes and I
hold that wheel and hold that draft
fences along the road and a crowd
people yelling and cowbells ringing
and three hours of sweat in my eyes
tunnel vision--hold that wheel
just a bit more time one more gear
okay straightaway
he’s tired--I can get around him
swing out to the left and stand on the pedals
grip the bars not too tight
legs on fire burning lactic acid
the crowd sounds underwater
ow and more flames
the finish looks a long way off
and can I hold him off
he must be tired and he’s
gaining on my right side
dang it and half a wheel
whole wheel ahead
overhead timer more cowbells
and yelling there’s the line
and he’s half a bike length ahead
I push one last time and throw forward the bars
not enough
62 miles is long
but the finish is measured in inches
coast up the road on momentum and
stop next to him and gasp
“good sprint.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not the Bomb

Ten years ago, kids would have said, “It’s the bomb!” That’s fallen out of the vernacular, and it’s not quite accurate. Stay tuned, though.

A little background information first: Friday was field-trip day for the majority of the tenth grade, leaving me with two blocks and very few students—mostly those who forgot to hand in their permission slips. Not much teaching would happen, but it would be a chance to catch up with whatever work the stragglers were missing, and it would give me a chance to make a dent in my stack of papers.

That’s not exactly what happened.

I was out of the room, chatting with a colleague. My co-teacher, a special ed teacher with years of experience and copious grace, was in our room with our three students: a quiet kid seated at the front, and two class-clown types in the back.

I walked back in, and saw Mrs. G sitting in the back with the two cut-ups. Her body language—legs crossed, hands folded—put me at ease instantly, thus helping me not freak out when I said, “That’s a grenade.”

Told you it wasn’t the bomb, or even a bomb. Still, pretty close. And close counts with hand grenades.

Jester number one, a kid prone to wearing his hoodie backwards with the hood up, a kid whose parents receive regular email missives from me, had brought in a grenade, which now rested, upright, on the desk to Mrs. G’s right. A quick glance and I could tell it was just a shell, but still. A grenade. In the classroom. Just sayin.’

“Mr. W!” she began, in that animated voice teachers use when they are talking to other teachers but want students to hear. (It’s an old trick, but it still works fairly often.) “We’re just trying to figure out what to do with Stan’s grenade!” (NOTE: His name isn’t Stan. There’s nobody in my school named Stan.)

“Oh. Yes. That.” For some reason, I saw the absurdity in this situation right away. “Stan, why did you bring that in today?” I asked the urchin.

His face lit up into a big, goofy grin. “Show and tell?” he said sheepishly.

“Okay…” I said. “Where did you get it?”

“My grandfather was in the army. He gave it to me.”

“And you thought it would be a good idea to bring it in to school?”


“Well, I think I should take it from you. I doubt you’ll need it before the end of the day.”


I picked it up. Despite its neutered state, it was still an impressively dangerous-feeling hunk of metal.

“Wow,” said Mrs. G. “That would send a lot of hunks of metal flying if it blew up!”

“That’s the idea,” I offered, at which point the other kid—an occasional hot-head whose bluster had melted into conviviality this morning—cracked up. “Hahaha, Mr. W! ‘That’s the idea’!”

“You know, Mr. A [our vice principal] is right next door,” I said, at which point Stan lost his smile.

Mrs. G exited with the grenade. She returned empty-handed. Mr. A soon appeared in the doorway, and motioned for Stan. The kid departed, and came back a few minutes later with a handful of pink referral papers. Turns out he had a few priors. To his credit, he still had his sheepishness about him. He’s not the type of kid I’d worry about. He probably just wanted some attention. We all had a good laugh, spurred on mostly by Mr. Convivial, who was probably relieved to not be the one in trouble this time.

The stars must have aligned that day. Would you believe there is more? Footnotes, really, after the grenade. But they have their own charm.

A teacher found an empty gin bottle in the boys’ bathroom. This, of course, led to all sorts of comments about said teacher’s imbibing. Someone suggested sending a message home asking parents to check their liquor cabinets, thus finding the guilty party. I told everyone that some kid had knocked on the faculty room door, looking for tonic and lime, but that I hadn’t put one and one together fast enough.

Last one. The tide of humanity outside my classroom door slowed, then did that weird forward-backward thing. My teacher senses tingled. Fight. Yup. Two girls, lots of yelling, everyone else spectating. Adults arrived before fisticuffs even started. Off each one marched, in separate directions, clutching their cell-phone talismans, trailing profanity and hangers-on.

I can say many things about my job. Most days, I can honestly say that it’s never dull. The preceding words are a work of fiction, somewhat. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. Oh, and this all happened long ago and far away. Maybe.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Morning, and I sip
from my cup, wishing you'd taste
the tea on my tongue.

Wishing on stars as
they burn to dust--how much fuel
does a hope require?

Winter hearts freeze in
January's heavy air,
catching at my throat.

Exam time: students
lean and write, as I sit and
ponder my own tests.

I shake my pen--out
of ink and out of time, with
much more left to say.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...