Saturday, December 24, 2011

To the Temple, Singing

The Suburbs (M.A. Reilly, 12/2011)


I was looking out a window the other day and noticed how the squirrels seem to have overtaken the side yard. They appear so certain, so 'moved in'--casually lounging on 'lawn' furniture we had yet to put away in preparation for winter.  All of us almost readying for winter.  They eating and then lounging on the chaise.  Me watching, a cup of Irish tea at hand, looking out the side door.

I live in the suburbs: that geographic space existing without its own rhythm--a colony of houses interrupted by strip malls and signaled by the long line of cars that motor out each morning--headlights cutting the near dark and who return the same way at twilight.

Now to be sure, I also live with forests of trees and reservoirs and paths you can almost get lost on as this is an almost-suburb.  A place without any stoplights. 30 minutes north of Manhattan on the Jersey side. A place others come to 'recreate': to fish, cross country ski, hike, sail, bird watch and kill deer and bears.


Louis Simpson (1963)  in the poem, "In the Suburbs," writes:

There’s no way out.

You were born to waste your life.
You were born to this middleclass life

As others before you
Were born to walk in procession
To the temple, singing.

In "After Midnight", Simpson narrates and then wonders:
The dark streets are deserted,   
With only a drugstore glowing   
Softly, like a sleeping body;

With one white, naked bulb   
In the back, that shines   
On suicides and abortions.

Who lives in these dark houses?   
I am suddenly aware   
I might live here myself.

The garage man returns
And puts the change in my hand,   
Counting the singles carefully.

 Who lives in these dark houses?  These dark schools? 


I am ill-suited for the suburbs, perhaps you are as well. I have failed at suburbia, knowing only the names of a few neighbors and not attending the PTA or the local women's group. To be honest, I haven't even tried.  Suburbia and the schools they inspire are intricately connected, and the values that (in)form both have become homogenized.

We hardly know how to breathe.

Perhaps we need to read more poetry as poets often allow us to see what is most difficult to name: ourselves in precarious spaces.  If we read America as suburb, do we wonder why schools feel less substantial then memory claims--that anyone with a few million and a borrowed idea can 'reform' a school, perhaps yours?  Just as the suburbs are a conglomerate of 'placed upon' definitions of self and geography--so too are our public schools. Stripped of place and local identity, they exist as foils, endlessly reflecting the most recent image placed before them.

Here is a partial list of how schools get 'reformed':
  1. Reform large high schools by making smaller 'academies' within the high school.
  2. Close down schools and reconstitute these schools as something else.
  3. Replace 'low expectation' schools with 'high expectation' schools.
  4.  Replace 'low expectation' teachers with 'high expectation' teachers.
  5. Replace neighborhood schools with magnet schools.
  6. Replace public schools with charter schools.
  7. Replace schools with for-profit schools.
  8. Allow for vouchers and parental choice.
  9. Hold a lottery.
  10. Cheat on high stakes tests.
  11. Replicate school models in any number of schools in order to 'scale up innovation'.
  12. Revise curricula.
  13. Test.
  14. Purchase scientifically proven programs and implement.
  15. Develop pacing charts and enforce them.
  16. Purchase units of study and enforce their use.
  17. Develop professional learning communities.
  18. Aim high and embrace change.
  19. Make effective teachers.
  20. Create alternative methods to certify teachers.
  21. Evaluate children, teachers, principals and use these results to do x.
  22. Find the 'great' teachers and have them teach the country via 'distance' learning.
  23. Discount poverty as the indicator of student success.
  24. Tie graduation to passing state tests to 'ensure excellence'.
  25. Do unto others.

Do you see how this doing unto others is a lot like what has happened to the space of land between cities and farms?  Perhaps the connections between schooling and suburbia are so as we are who we are. We are what we value.

Is it our imagination, collective and otherwise, that needs to be re/inspired?

Works Cited

Simpson, Louis. 1963. “In the Suburbs.” At the End of the Open Road. Wesleyan University Press.
Simpson, Louis. 2003. "After Midnight."  The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940 -2001. Rochester, NY: BOA.


  1. first how you can draw. how long does that take you? how long did that one take?
    oh my.

    and second..
    loving this ( you, creating art with your words):
    ourselves in precarious spaces...

  2. The work took several hours. Drawing with a trackpad required and all done on the computer.

    It is precarious, isn't it?

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