Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Grief and Art and Teaching

8.31. 14 Collage: A World of Risk and Randomness (M.A. Reilly)

I. When a Child Kills

I first read an account by Gregory Orr of the accidental shooting of his younger brother in the book, Poetry as Survival, that Matt Daly, a friend and colleague, loaned me.  In the text, Orr tells of a hunting accident that happened when he was 12 and killed his brother. The book is elegant as it is raw and Orr conveys how poetry helped him to (re)name his experiences, not in some complete and finished manner--but rather in bits and pieces he managed across years. He tells there that he has never healed.

Early in the text he writes:

Poetry as Survival, page 8

For Orr, Mrs. Irving's introduction to poetry, especially the lyric poem, offered him a powerful and lifelong means to begin to explicate feeling by naming. When we name we give meaning and in doing so we sometimes resituate what frightens, terrorizes, confounds and puzzles us. Poetry as Survival recounts Orr's journey connecting his experiences with the works of poets like Lawrence, Wordsworth and Keats--to name but a few.

II. Grief

In this Sunday's New York Times, Orr writes a powerful essay, When A Child Kills, recounting his trauma and linking it to the young nine-year-old girl who accidentally killed her instructor at a shooting range a week ago in Las Vegas. Orr concludes the essay by writing:

from New York Times, SR8, 8.31.14

III. Teaching and Art

I'd like to think that there is a Mrs. Irving waiting for the young girl from New Jersey next week when they each return to school.  A teacher who offers something in the way of art to help the little girl begin to move from silence to (re)naming her world. I'd like to think that next week when school opens here for most children, there are countless Mrs. Irving's waiting with poetry and art and open hands.

What teachers do matter in ways that cannot be calculated with neat and tidy rubrics or classroom observations. Teaching is an intimate act. Rubrics and the like are hopelessly incomplete as teaching is more often about love and sharing what is loved.  For Mrs. Irving, I imagine it was a powerful love of poetry that had her offering up poems to a young Gregory Orr and his classmates.  An offering that reshaped his life.

Black and White Images: Summer 2014

A few images I made during a 24-hour period while on OBX.

Surfing (M.A. Reilly, Nag's Head, OBX, 2014)
Water's Edge (M.A. Reilly, Pea Island, OBX, 2014) 
Sand (M.A. Reilly, OBX, 2014)
Birds at Dusk (M.A. Reilly, Nag's Head, OBX, 2014)
Cut (M.A. Reilly, Nag's Head, OBX, 2014)
Curious  (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC, 2014)

Big Clouds (M.A. Reilly, Deerfield Beach, FL, 2014)
Mountain Lines (M.A. Reilly, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA, 2014)
Gothic Field (M.A. Reilly, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA, 2014)
Zip Line (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Sleep (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
A Boy at Play (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Superhero (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Morning Run (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Five Umbrellas (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Clouds (M.A. Reilly, Wilmington, NC 2014)
Span (M.A. Reilly, Jacksonville, FL 2014)
One (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
At the Water's Edge (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Dunes (M.A. Reilly, OBX, 2014)

Poetry Break: Having a Coke With You

This art work/illustration of Frank O'Hara's poem, "Having a Coke With You" was created by Nathan Gelund

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Images: Color 2014

A few images I made this summer.

Scale (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Blue Sea Impression (M.A. Reilly, Florida 2014)
Atlantic (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014)
Swimming (M.A. Reilly, Deerfield Beach, FL 2014)
Blue (M.A. Reilly, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA 2014)
Sand Dunes (M.A. Reilly, Pea Island, OBX 2014)
Tanker (M.A. Reilly, Virginia 2014)
An Inlet (M.A. Reilly, Pea Island, OBX 2014)
One Surfer (M.A. Reilly, Nag's Head, OBX 2014)
Sun Setting (M.A. Reilly, Nag's Head, OBX 2014)
Sunrise (M.A. Reilly, Myrtle Beach, SC 2014) 

Poetry Break: Mind

When March is Scarcely Here (M.A. Reilly 2012)


- Jorie Graham

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity's
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

When Teachers Were Trusted to Teach

High School Students Documenting Happenings at Occupy Wall Street (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
I. Teaching and Time

As a middle and high school English teacher, the students I taught passed the state ELA assessments each year. I can recall none who did not.  But those were simpler days, as I was afforded the time to teach and the discretion to fully determine the content of what I taught.  I was able to build continuity across the year alongside my students as my teaching days were largely uninterrupted.  I can recall one time while teaching that an administrator took to the PA system for most of the day calling for classes to come to the auditorium for pictures. It was a litany of interruptions.  This was such an anomaly that towards the end of the day I sent a senior to the office carrying a white t-shirt with our signatures saying we had surrendered.  In those days, teaching was a respected act.

What people who do not teach don't readily understand is that time matters, not just in the number of days allotted to teaching, but also in the continuity of days. Contrary to many of the teaching evaluation rubrics that situate each lesson as a day, I rarely fit learning into a single class period. Rather our learning flowed more like a natural river, less contained. Learning crossed days adding up to what I could not have named at the beginning.  It was iterative. A learning target that matched those outcomes would have been difficult to state as learning was more about the knowledge the community composed, less about any one self.

A day's interruption cost more than a lesson.

II. Testing in Miami-Dade Public Schools

I was thinking about this a few days ago as my husband read the litany of tests that students from the Miami-Dade Public Schools will take this year.  (Here's a link to the testing calendar. You might want to sit down as the testing calendar runs across three pages.)

My students were assessed daily, but tested rarely. There's so much to be learned from students' work products and conversations that I found myself more often pouring over kids' work wondering what caused x to do y and so on--rather than making paper and pencil tests. Students took on assessment as well, establishing goals and measuring progress.  Leaving assessment matters in teachers'  and students' hands though is not the norm in the United States and it seems certainly not the case in Miami-Dade.

Students there will begin the year sitting for the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading Assessment (FAIR). FAIR is a progress monitoring assessment that measures reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, word recognition, and syntax knowledge for students in grades 3-10 (11 & 12 as needed) and a separate set of instruments for K-2 children. The 3-10 manual explaining the assessments is 40-pages. By sitting alongside a child and listening to him/her reading, conversing, studying written and art products--I learned about each child.  I can't help but wonder if the researchers who created the progress monitoring assessments for Florida realized how many other assessments the kids would also be taking, especially children performing at levels 1 or 2 on previous assessments.  For those kids the endless series of tests is daunting and disruptive.

Students in grades 3-11  take the FAIR assessment in the fall and they also take District ELA Writing Pre-Test during the same time period. At the close of these assessments it's time for the Interim Assessment Tests (fall) for these subjects:  English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Biology 1, United States History, and Civics. In the middle of this testing, third graders also take the Grade 3 Mid-Year Promotion assessment. This is part of the series of assessments that include portfolios, which are administered beginning in January. When my husband read this aloud to me I joked that the only thing the kids could put in their portfolio would be tests. Well the joke was more prophetic than funny. The portfolio looks to be nothing more than a collection of reading passage-based tests with the requisite number of narrative and informational texts accounted for a la CCSS and aligned to benchmark standards.  Here's a link to the 26-page portfolio handbook.

This is hardly a portfolio.

III. Making is Different from Taking

I'll stop here as I don't want to belabor the obvious and I want to make two points:
  1. the amount of testing disrupts learning in significant ways--ways that those who promulgate testing schedules like Miami-Dade fail to realize; and  
  2. what counts as curriculum is not emergent nor can it easily be negotiated as the testing schedule drives instruction. The actual real world is kept apart from school learning when the year is paced and tests are pre-established. A look at the third grade 'portfolio' shows that.
When I think about the students I taught and why they did well there are a number of reasons. 
  1. First, they were most often well-cared for children whose housing, medical and dietary needs were met consistently. I realize that since Bush II many of the ed-reform pundits dismiss the well fed child who has a home and whose medical (including dental) needs are met, but those of us who actually work with children know all too well that when such basic needs are consistently unmet, children most often struggle to learn prescribed lessons at school. They are too busy surviving in the richest of countries.
  2. A second reason students did well on these state measures is that they more often than not showed up at school able to read. The students who did not, did not do as well. What happens in K-1 most often shapes academic achievement.
  3. A third reason is that most students were taught by competent teachers for years before I received them as students and this learning mattered and could matter as the curriculum I taught was one the students and I co-determined. I capitalized on what the students had learned previously as they determined curriculum. One year I had an eighth grade class who decided to run the class as clubs.  Composing can be folded into lots of experiences. We did not need to keep the current world at bay.
  4. Students were fairly motivated to learn given that their agency was prized.  
  5. Add to that: Uninterrupted time to teach; freedom to compose curriculum as complicated conversations, freedom to collaborate and co-teach, freedom to represent student achievement and the timelines for achievement in idiosyncratic ways; and permission to err repeatedly, repeatedly.
The most important reason the kids did well is that teachers were trusted to teach without having to be perfect.  I learned the value of risk-taking. We were very much a community in which learning was exciting, expected, and desired. I worked with significant educators who mentored me during my early days of teaching. I can recall one observation a superintendent conducted in which I asked 70+ questions in 60 minutes. It was hardly a shining moment. I was a new teacher and at that time teaching was more about what I was doing and less about the learners.  In lieu of a written evaluation, the superintendent invited me to co-teach.  And so we revised the unit I had been teaching about economic scarcity and The Grapes of Wrath and co-taught for a week. He wanted me to learn and believed I was teachable. I learned something about the well-placed question and even more about observing learning.  This experience helped me to begin the important shift from focusing solely on my teaching to focusing on the interplay between teaching and learning.

And so, our value as teachers was not limited to a single state test measure. Value was not determined by student growth objectives. Value was not a number based on a series of evaluations. We were able to teach and learn alongside students and our peers as there was a belief that "people are competent, they have knowledge, and their life experiences have given them that knowledge" (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005, pp. ix-x). We worked as members of a settled household.

IV. The Matter of Trust & Complexity

It is the absence of trust that teachers can and will do good work that is most daunting, most damning for learners. This is what the ed-reformers simply do not understand or perhaps do not care to understand. In lieu of trusting teachers, learners will suffer.

Instead of trusting teachers to teach and assess, testing calendars and pacing charts like the one from Miami-Dade are imposed. Some years ago I was invited by a central office to confer with the curriculum and instruction staff about their ELA program. There was quite a crowd that afternoon and the assistant superintendent showed me pages of pacing schedules for their 200+ schools that listed what was to be taught, how it was to be taught, and when what was to be learned would be tested. The calendar ran for 40 weeks. Every minute was accounted for.  It was very neat, very orderly, and so very wrong.  I asked why they wanted to plot the year as they did and they talked about poor academic performance and the need to make sure teachers and principals did what was required. These educators posited teaching as a complicated endeavor, not a complex one. 

I suggested that such tight control would lead to less learning as a simple truth, although perhaps uncomfortable,  is that central office cannot create teaching competency through pacing and testing calendars, through purchased products, by retaining children in third and/or seventh grades as a matter of policy, or by mandating homework, home visits, particular lesson or unit plans, etc.

What rests in teachers' and principals' hands deserves our notice, understanding and respect. Anything less will harm children.

I was largely dismissed by the group. After visiting central office and after an opportunity to study with a new 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Sheridan (pseudonym), I would write about professional learning and how it is critically different than professional development. At that time, the school where Ms. Sheridan taught was made to use the Harper Trophies reading program and to follow the 40-week pacing and testing schedule, regardless of what the assessment data yielded.  The march to the end of the 40 weeks was uninterrupted by meaning making.  (Excerpt below)

from Dressing the Corpse (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

In thinking about the countless Ms. Sheridan's I've met, I want to say that we are more than technicians who act out some central office plan.  Ms. Sheridan would have benefitted to have worked in a place that was more like the settled household I was afforded as a beginning teacher and less like an hourly employee at a factory.  The irony is that she will be evaluated as a teacher and the professional environment which shapes her work as teacher will be situated as a neutral entity. This is such folly. (See excerpt below)

from Dressing the Corpse (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

V. A Final Thought

Teaching is a complex act that needs to be supported, not vilified. Investing in teacher work will benefit our children. 

Poetry Break: Stars by Louise Glück

Calling Up the Birds (M.A. Reilly. Dublin. 2009)


- Louise Glück

I’m awake; I am in the world-
I expect
no further assurance.
No protection, no promise.

Solace of the night sky,
the hardly moving
face of the clock.

I’m alone- all
my riches surround me.
I have a bed, a room.
I have a bed, a vase
of flowers beside it.
And a nightlight, a book.

I’m awake; I am safe.
The darkness like a shield, the dreams
put off, maybe
vanished forever.

And the day-
the unsatisfying morning that says
I am your future,
here is your cargo of sorrow:

Do you reject me? Do you mean
To send me away because I am not
full, in your word,
because you see
the black shape already implicit?

I will never be banished. I am the light,
your personal anguish and humiliation.
Do you dare
send me away as though
you were waiting for something better?

There is no better.
Only (for a short space)
the night sky like
a quarantine that sets you
apart from your task.

Only (softly, fiercely)
the stars shining. Here,
in the room, the bedroom.
Saying I was brave, I resisted,
I set myself on fire.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poetry Break: Tell Me a Story

Starlight (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

Tell Me a Story

      - Robert Penn Warren

[ A ]
Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse.  I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

[ B ]
Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Poetry Break: Falling


A 29-year-old stewardess fell ... to her
death tonight when she was swept
through an emergency door that sud-
denly sprang open ... The body ...
was found ... three hours after the
                              —New York Times
The states when they black out and lie there rolling    when they turn
To something transcontinental    move by    drawing moonlight out of the great
One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip    some sleeper next to
An engine is groaning for coffee    and there is faintly coming in
Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks
Of trays    she rummages for a blanket    and moves in her slim tailored
Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew

The door down with a silent blast from her lungs    frozen    she is black
Out finding herself    with the plane nowhere and her body taking by the throat
The undying cry of the void    falling    living    beginning to be something
That no one has ever been and lived through    screaming without enough air
Still neat    lipsticked    stockinged    girdled by regulation    her hat
Still on    her arms and legs in no world    and yet spaced also strangely
With utter placid rightness on thin air    taking her time    she holds it
In many places    and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems
To slow    she develops interest    she turns in her maneuverable body

To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her
Self    in low body-whistling wrapped intensely    in all her dark dance-weight
Coming down from a marvellous leap    with the delaying, dumfounding ease
Of a dream of being drawn    like endless moonlight to the harvest soil
Of a central state of one’s country    with a great gradual warmth coming
Over her    floating    finding more and more breath in what she has been using
For breath    as the levels become more human    seeing clouds placed honestly
Below her left and right    riding slowly toward them    she clasps it all
To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways    and
Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide    wider and suck
All the heat from the cornfields    can go down on her back with a feeling
Of stupendous pillows stacked under her    and can turn    turn as to someone
In bed    smile, understood in darkness    can go away    slant    slide
Off tumbling    into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread
Or whirl madly on herself    in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth
Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon.    There is time to live
In superhuman health    seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing
An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it    arriving
In a square town    and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches
The moon by its one shaken side    scaled, roaming silver    My God it is good
And evil    lying in one after another of all the positions for love
Making    dancing    sleeping    and now cloud wisps at her no
Raincoat    no matter    all small towns brokenly brighter from inside
Cloud    she walks over them like rain    bursts out to behold a Greyhound
Bus shooting light through its sides    it is the signal to go straight
Down like a glorious diver    then feet first    her skirt stripped beautifully
Up    her face in fear-scented cloths    her legs deliriously bare    then
Arms out    she slow-rolls over    steadies out    waits for something great
To take control of her    trembles near feathers    planes head-down
The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head    gold eyes the insight-
eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops    a taste for chicken overwhelming
Her    the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars
Freight trains    looped bridges    enlarging the moon racing slowly
Through all the curves of a river    all the darks of the midwest blazing
From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white    the smothering chickens
Huddle    for over them there is still time for something to live
With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop    a hurtling    a fall
That is controlled    that plummets as it wills    turns gravity
Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon    shining
New Powers    there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing
But the whole night    time for her to remember to arrange her skirt
Like a diagram of a bat    tightly it guides her    she has this flying-skin
Made of garments    and there are also those sky-divers on tv    sailing
In sunlight    smiling under their goggles    swapping batons back and forth
And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving
Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion    white teeth    nowhere
She is screaming    singing hymns    her thin human wings spread out
From her neat shoulders    the air beast-crooning to her    warbling
And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world    now
She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape    watching it lose
And gain    get back its houses and peoples    watching it bring up
Its local lights    single homes    lamps on barn roofs    if she fell
Into water she might live    like a diver    cleaving    perfect    plunge

Into another    heavy silver    unbreathable    slowing    saving
Element: there is water    there is time to perfect all the fine
Points of diving    feet together    toes pointed    hands shaped right
To insert her into water like a needle    to come out healthily dripping
And be handed a Coca-Cola    there they are    there are the waters
Of life    the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir    so let me begin
To plane across the night air of Kansas    opening my eyes superhumanly
Bright    to the damned moon    opening the natural wings of my jacket
By Don Loper    moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water
One cannot just fall    just tumble screaming all that time    one must use
It    she is now through with all    through all    clouds    damp    hair
Straightened    the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing
New darks    new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos

And night    a gradual warming    a new-made, inevitable world of one’s own
Country    a great stone of light in its waiting waters    hold    hold out
For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body
And fly    and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned
Water    stored up for her for years    the arms of her jacket slipping
Air up her sleeves to go    all over her? What final things can be said
Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night
Air    to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself
Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward    the blazing-bare lake
Her skirts neat    her hands and face warmed more and more by the air
Rising from pastures of beans    and under her    under chenille bedspreads
The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding
On the scratch-shining posts of the bed    dreaming of female signs
Of the moon    male blood like iron    of what is really said by the moan
Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight    passing
Over brush fires    burning out in silence on little hills    and will wake
To see the woman they should be    struggling on the rooftree to become
Stars: for her the ground is closer    water is nearer    she passes
It    then banks    turns    her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls
Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must
Do something with water    fly to it    fall in it    drink it    rise
From it    but there is none left upon earth    the clouds have drunk it back
The plants have sucked it down    there are standing toward her only
The common fields of death    she comes back from flying to falling
Returns to a powerful cry    the silent scream with which she blew down
The coupled door of the airliner    nearly    nearly losing hold
Of what she has done    remembers    remembers the shape at the heart
Of cloud    fashionably swirling    remembers she still has time to die
Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour
Of cornfields    and have enough time to kick off her one remaining
Shoe with the toes    of the other foot    to unhook her stockings
With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair
Near death    when the body will assume without effort any position
Except the one that will sustain it    enable it to rise    live
Not die    nine farms hover close    widen    eight of them separate, leaving
One in the middle    then the fields of that farm do the same    there is no
Way to back off    from her chosen ground    but she sheds the jacket
With its silver sad impotent wings    sheds the bat’s guiding tailpiece
Of her skirt    the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse    the intimate
Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost
Of a virgin    sheds the long windsocks of her stockings    absurd
Brassiere    then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming
Off her: no longer monobuttocked    she feels the girdle flutter    shake
In her hand    and float    upward    her clothes rising off her ascending
Into cloud    and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe
Like a dumb bird    and now will drop in    soon    now will drop

In like this    the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas    down from all
Heights    all levels of American breath    layered in the lungs from the frail
Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly
And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after
Her last superhuman act    the last slow careful passing of her hands
All over her unharmed body    desired by every sleeper in his dream:
Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart’s blood
Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves
Arisen at sunrise    the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn
Toward clouds    all feel something    pass over them as she passes
Her palms over her long legs    her small breasts    and deeply between
Her thighs    her hair shot loose from all pins    streaming in the wind
Of her body    let her come openly    trying at the last second to land
On her back    This is it    this
                                                          All those who find her impressed
In the soft loam    gone down    driven well into the image of her body
The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep
In her mortal outline    in the earth as it is in cloud    can tell nothing
But that she is there    inexplicable    unquestionable    and remember
That something broke in them as well    and began to live and die more
When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth
Caught her    interrupted her maiden flight    told her how to lie she cannot
Turn    go away    cannot move    cannot slide off it and assume another
Position    no sky-diver with any grin could save her    hold her in his arms
Plummet with her    unfold above her his wedding silks    she can no longer
Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife
Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls    or all the back-breaking whores
Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one
Breath    it is all gone    and yet not dead    not anywhere else
Quite    lying still in the field on her back    sensing the smells
Of incessant growth try to lift her    a little sight left in the corner
Of one eye    fading    seeing something wave    lies believing
That she could have made it    at the best part of her brief goddess
State    to water    gone in headfirst    come out smiling    invulnerable
Girl in a bathing-suit ad    but she is lying like a sunbather at the last
Of moonlight    half-buried in her impact on the earth    not far
From a railroad trestle    a water tank    she could see if she could
Raise her head from her modest hole    with her clothes beginning
To come down all over Kansas    into bushes    on the dewy sixth green
Of a golf course    one shoe    her girdle coming down fantastically
On a clothesline, where it belongs    her blouse on a lightning rod:

Lies in the fields    in this field    on her broken back as though on
A cloud she cannot drop through    while farmers sleepwalk without
Their women from houses    a walk like falling toward the far waters
Of life    in moonlight    toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms
Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands    that tragic cost
Feels herself go    go toward    go outward    breathes at last fully
Not    and tries    less    once    tries    tries    ah, god—
James Dickey, “Falling” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Poetry Break: For My Lover, Returning To His Wife

The Wife (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

For My Lover, Returning To His Wife

       - Anne Sexton

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let's face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.

She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,

has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter's wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,

done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons rising on the ceiling.

She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.

I give you back your heart.
I give you permission—

for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound—
for the burying of her small red wound alive—

for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother's knee, for the stockings,
for the garter belt, for the call—

the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.

She is so naked and singular.
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.

As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Poetry Break: The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

Contemplating Stars (M.A. Reilly)

The Laughing Heart

- Charles Bukowski

our life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Poetry Break: The End and the Beginning

Circa 1967 (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
Wislawa Szymborska, "The End and the Beginning " from Miracle Fair, translated by Joanna Trzeciak. Copyright © 2001 by Joanna Trzeciak. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Poetry Break - Steps

Etta and Butch Go For A Ride (M.A. Reilly, 2009)


               - Frank O'Hara

How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting’s not so blue

where’s Lana Turner
she’s out eating
and Garbo’s backstage at the Met
everyone’s taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park’s full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we’re all winning
we’re alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building’s no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

Friday, August 22, 2014

Poetry Break: Coal by Audre Lorde

From The Fire: Zora Neale Hurston (M.A. Reilly 2009)

Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame   
How a sound comes into a word, coloured   
By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth's inside   
Take my word for jewel in your open light.
Audre Lorde, “Coal” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde.