Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Two Public Elementary Schools

First Day of School in Budapest:

The kids arrive dressed in white shirts and black pants or skirts. This is the customary attire for special occasions in the school: the first day, national celebrations, and graduations. The children, accompanied by their parents in the younger grades, go directly to their classrooms. There is commotion as the kids find a seat, taking any available seat. The room is crowded for the thirty students in the class. The additional parents fill every available space. Shortly before 8 am, the kids line up and process to the school’s courtyard. The younger ones (grades 1 – 2) sit on benches. The rest of the students, grades 3 – 8, stand in lines or clusters. The principal greets the student body and gathered parents. The choir sings several songs. A student reads a poem. There are more speeches. The ceremony goes on for about an hour. Then the students go back to their room to spend the first day, which will dismiss after lunch.

Expectations: dress formally, stand still and listen to speeches given by grownups, listen while classmates perform poems and songs. Values: tradition, compliance, respect for community

First Day of School in Brookline:

The kids arrive dressed in whatever they choose. They gather in the cafeteria until the bell rings and then they proceed to their assigned teacher, the younger ones accompanied by a parent. The teacher has prepared the classroom space (there are no walls or doors) with clearly displayed instructions that engage the kids immediately, directing them to store their backpacks and get started on a project. In this case, the kids were directed to decorate a bookmark. As the twenty-one students find their places, the teacher is meeting each child. She has a big smile. She greets them by name and points out their assigned spot. The parent says goodbye and the child remains for a full day of school.

Expectations: dress how you choose, immediate engagement and self-sufficiency, student as a team player. Values: individuality, transparency (clear expectations), teamwork

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The rest is only drama.

Monday, September 04, 2017

A Kindly Gnome


An immodest little white wine, some scattered seraphs,
recollections of the Fall—tell me,
has anyone made a spongier representation, chased
fewer demons out of the parking lot
where we all held hands?
Little by little the idea of the true way returned to me.
I was touched by your care,
reduced to fawning excuses.
Everything was spotless in the little house of our desire,
the clock ticked on and on, happy about
being apprenticed to eternity. A gavotte of dust motes
came to replace my seeing. Everything was as though
it had happened long ago
in ancient peach-colored funny papers
wherein the law of true opposites was ordained
casually. Then the book opened by itself
and read to us: “You pack of liars,
of course tempted by the crossroads, but I like each
and every one of you with a peculiar sapphire intensity.
Look, here is where I failed at first.
The client leaves. History natters on,
rolling distractedly on these shores. Each day, dawn
condenses like a very large star, bakes no bread,
shoes the faithless. How convenient if it’s a dream.”
In the next sleep car was madness.
An urgent languor installed itself
as far as the cabbage-hemmed horizons. And if I put a little
bit of myself in this time, stoppered the liquor that is our selves’
truant exchanges, brandished my intentions
for once? But only I get
something out of this memory.
A kindly gnome
of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all
been instructed
to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here, it
seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter
how you twist it,
life stays frozen in the headlights.
Funny, none of us heard the roar.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Scavenged Love

I found this note, handwritten front and back, and folded into the size of a postage stamp, small enough to carry in a wallet. No names, no dates. I found it on Beacon Street, near Cafe Fixe. I'll return it to the universe here:

I want this letter to tell you that I'll be aching too, but we're both on amazing adventures that make the ache worth it. 


Monday, July 17, 2017

You and I in Your Handwriting

You and I
by Henry Alford

My hand is lonely for your clasping, dear;
My ear is tired waiting for your call.
I want your strength to help, your laugh to cheer;
Heart, soul and senses need you, one and all.
I droop without your full, frank sympathy;
We ought to be together - you and I;
We want each other so, to comprehend
The dream, the hope, things planned, or seen, or wrought.
Companion, comforter and guide and friend,
As much as love asks love, does thought ask thought.
Life is so short, so fast the lone hours fly,
We ought to be together, you and I.My hand is lonely for your clasping, dear;
My ear is tired waiting for your call.
I want your strength to help, your laugh to cheer;
Heart, soul and senses need you, one and all.
I droop without your full, frank sympathy;
We ought to be together - you and I;
We want each other so, to comprehend
The dream, the hope, things planned, or seen, or wrought.
Companion, comforter and guide and friend,
As much as love asks love, does thought ask thought.
Life is so short, so fast the lone hours fly,
We ought to be together, you and I.

Someone once copied this poem into a letter for me.
I saved it. 
I just discovered it it nearly 25 years later.
It may or may not be a great poem.
But it is a treasure. 
Remember the days when lovers copied poetry, and put an airmail stamp on an envelope, and waited, waited, and waited for a reply. It was too expensive to call overseas. Even the postage felt extravagant. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017


by Neil Gaiman  
Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.
In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.
The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.
Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.
And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.
Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.
Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. Observe.
Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.
Observe everything.
And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe. Formulate.
The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.
And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.
The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.
The men go running on after beasts.
The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.

Photograph by Molly Walsh / Academy of American Poets

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pomegranate by Kevin Pilkington


Kevin Pilkington

A woman walks by the bench I’m sitting on
with her dog that looks part Lab, part Buick,
stops and asks if I would like to dance.
I smile, tell her of course I do. We decide
on a waltz that she begins to hum.

We spin and sway across the street in between
parked cars and I can tell she realizes
she chose a man who understands the rhythm
of sand, the boundaries of thought. We glide
and Fred and Ginger might come to mind or
a breeze filled with the scent of flowers of your choice.
Coffee stops flowing as a waitress stares out the window
of a diner while I lead my partner back across the street.

When we come to the end of our dance,
we compliment each other and to repay the favor
I tell her to be careful since the world comes to an end
three blocks to the east of where we stand. Then
I remind her as long as there is a ’59 Cadillac parked
somewhere in a backyard between here and Boise
she will dance again.

As she leaves content with her dog, its tail wagging
like gossip, I am convinced now more than ever
that I once held hundreds of roses in my hands
the first time I cut open a pomegranate.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

H.D. "The Walls Do Not Fall"

The following excerpt is Section 15 of “The Walls Do Not Fall” which is included in H.D.’s Collected Poems, 1912-1944:

Too old to be useful
(whether in years of experience,

we are the same lot)
not old enough to be dead,

we are the keepers of the secret,
the carriers, the spinners

of the rare intangible thread
that binds all humanity

to ancient wisdom,
to antiquity;

our joy is unique, to us,
grape, knife, cup, wheat

are symbols in eternity,
and every concrete object

has abstract value, is timeless
in the dream parallel

whose relative sigil has not changed
since Nineveh and Babel.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Plot" by Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis

The second stage is sleeplessness.
At first there was worry.
The third stage is “ordinary people.”
The fourth: what to do.

The first stage is chaos.
The second is invention.
The steam engine. The napkin.
The picnic table. Money.

First you were walking across a bridge.
Then you were flying.
Then you were sweeping the floor.

First comes love.
Then nausea.

First pleasure.
Just a little pinch.

First the pupa, then the wings.
Wordlessness. Night.

The first thing is labor.
The second, we don’t know.

First comes water.
Then air.
A hurricane. A sigh.
Abigail. Norma. Laquisha.
Molly. Sylvia. Roxanne.
Temperance. Emma. Delilah.
Daphne. Wilhelmina. Georgette.
Landfall. Rubble.

The first stage was childhood.
The second stage was Beatrice.

The first stage was Beatrice.
The second stage was hell.

First the city, then the forest.
The second stage was Virgil.
The third stage was expurgated.
The fourth went unnoticed.
The last stage was a letter.
A single meaningless hum.

What came first the money launderers or the flatterers.
What came first the Catherine wheel or the icebox.

In the beginning a voice.
In the beginning paramecia.

First carbon.
Then electricity.
Then shoes.

In the beginning a tree.

Before the house, a cave.
Before the cave, a swamp.
Before the swamp, a desert.

The garden was in the middle.
Between the sidewalk and the street.

In the beginning soup.

Then tables. The stock market.
Things on four legs.

In the beginning I was frightened.
Then the darkness told a joke.

Which came first the river or the bank.
Which came first the priest or the undertaker.
Which came first crime or punishment.
Which came first the firemen or the cops.
Which came first conquest or discovery.
The fork or the spoon.
The point or the lineup.
The FBI or the CIA.

Which came first gravity or grace.
Which came first cotton or wool.
Which came first the slaver or the ship.
Which came first the ankle or the wing.
The hummingbird or the frog.
Puberty or ideology.

Which came first memory or forgiveness.
Which came first prohibition or women’s suffrage.
Coffee or tea.

What came first yes or no.
What comes first silver or gold.
Porcelain or silk.
Pen or paper.

What came first Kyoto or Dresden.
What came first the renaissance or the reformation.
What would you rather be a rabbit or a duck.
Who is more powerful Mephistopheles or Marguerite.
Who’s it going to be me or you.
What would you rather do burn or drown.

In the beginning I was invincible.
In the middle I came apart.

First there was a library then there was a café.
Then there was a wall of glass.

Which came first The Melancholy of Departure or The Double Dream of Spring.

Which came first repression or resistance.
Grammar or syntax.
The siren or the gunshot.
Which came first granite or marble.
The army or the drone.
The whistling or the blackbird.
Which came first sugar or rum. Pineapple or bananas.
The senate or the corporation.

Was the story half-empty or half-full.

What feels better pity or anger.
What scares you more life or death.
What describes you best, the steam in the engine or a penny on the tracks.
What were you thinking, a whimper or a bang.
What would you choose, a sandwich or a phone call.
What did you expect, a question or an answer.
A piano or a clock.
Take all the time you want.

Elizabeth Willis is the author of “Alive: New and Selected Poems,” a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

Friday, February 17, 2017