I didn’t know I loved poem

with thanks to Barb Edler who posted the prompt for #VerseLove on Ethical ELA: “Consider the challenges you’ve overcome, the celebrations you can rejoice, the way you may miss something that you never realized you missed”…as inspiration for a “things I didn”t know I loved” poem.

When I returned to college later in life, after having had a family, I was asked to write an essay on “My Most Memorable Teacher.” I’d never thought about this before and was unprepared to write on the teacher who came immediately to mind…but I did write.

I had to.

On Day Nine of National Poetry Month, I give it to you in poem form.

For Mrs. Cooley

You terrified me, you know
looming large
an immovable mountain
in pearls and heels
casting your dark shadow
over my fourth-grade days

The topography of your years
etched deep on your face
your eagle eyes
piercing my very existence

The fear and trembling
of math drills—
Dear Lord
save me
from subtraction!—
I look up 
and there it is 
in your expression:
You can’t squeeze blood
from a turnip

I did not know
that many years later
when I’d be asked to write
of my most memorable teacher
that you’d spring to mind
clear as day
overshadowing all others

and that what I’d recall
is how you read 
Charlotte’s Web to the class

I did not know
I could love a spider so

and then how you read us
Old Yeller

My God my God
I almost died with 
that dog

I did not know
that you were the one
who made me love reading
for there is a difference
in being able to 
and it being the air you breathe

I could not believe
how worried you were
when I fell on the playground that day
how you cradled my distorted left arm
all the way to the office 
and waited with me
‘til Daddy came

I never dreamed
you’d come see me at home
when I had to stay in bed
propped with pillows
ice bag on my cast

I saw you
and the tears came—
I am missing the last two weeks of school
I won’t pass the fourth grade

I did not know you could CHUCKLE
that your sharp blue eyes
could go so soft
and watery
and I never heard that phrase before:
flying colors
you pass with flying colors

Would you believe
I am a teacher now
it isn’t what I planned
but here I am

I never knew until Daddy told me
years ago
that you’d passed
how much I’d long
to see you again
to ask you a thousand things
maybe even to laugh

but more than anything
to thank you
with all my heart

so I do that now
in hopes that you
and Charlotte
and Old Yeller
know that
my love
lives on

Photo: Girl reading. Pedro Ribeiro Simðes. CC BY – reminds me of young me

*******

Thanks also to Tabatha Yeatts for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup

34 thoughts on “I didn’t know I loved poem

  1. Dear Fran,
    I love this remembrance of your distinctive, made-for-a-movie character, Mrs. Cooley. And, Aahome visit? You have so beautifully captured a big-hearted & yet firm, mind & soul-molder. This is fitting Poetry Month Nourishment.
    Jan

    Liked by 1 person

    • She’d be an awesome movie character in her no-nonsense dress, heels, and pearls, old-school all the way, and infinitely wise. A soul-molder-yes! Must write more about her. Thank you so much, Janet.

      Like

  2. My fourth grade teacher was my favorite as well. She was intimidating, short tempered, and she raised her voice a lot. One day, I found out my best friend was moving, and I cried. I was trying to hide my tears, and she gave me a side hug as I was standing in line, and she kissed me on top of my head. I’ll never forget that. ❤

    I liked and can relate to, “it isn’t what I planned,
    but here I am”. I’m still there after twenty years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness, such a tender moment. These heartless teachers had HEART! Quite a lot of it. Life is interesting, how and where we land… I have told people I didn’t pursue teaching. It pursued me.

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  3. Fran, thank you for sharing your Mrs. Cooley with us. As this school year is drawing to an end and I’m looking at returning to the classroom in August (fourth grade, as coincidence would have it), I’m reading your memories as words of encouragement–she’s who I have always strived to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my, Tim. Fourth graders are great to work with. It is a time and age when a teacher can get kids to believe in themselves…and if they haven’t fallen in love with reading (and writing!) yet, it is a good age for the magic to happen. I have more Mrs. Cooley stories… at the time I was either in mortal terror or complete awe of her, but it wasn’t for many years that I understood exactly what she’d done for me by reading those books (completely undoing me) and in expecting me to push myself harder; she was no joke! And…coming to see me at home when I broke my arm. As a child I would not have thought of her as a favorite teacher. My father – with insight clearly akin to Mrs. Cooley’s – made sure to tell me when she passed. He didn’t do this with any other teacher. And the news cut me to the core. It was surprising; a defining moment. I desperately wished I could have told her ‘thank you’ for the immeasurable gifts she gave me. So – thank you for hearing it on her behalf. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • While in the classroom, I’ve always been with third graders, and I’m definitely looking forward to working with those same students a year older.

        I can only imagine what it was like to lose Mrs. Cooley, and I’m sorry for the pain of that loss. I’m fairly certain that if your father saw your feelings toward her (regardless of whether or not you did at the time), she did to. I don’t doubt you’ve experienced that from the teacher’s perspective.

        It might sound strange, but I didn’t have a Mrs. Cooley and really wasn’t aware “they” were out there until I started teaching myself. I’ve met several, aspire to be one myself, and I’m glad I get to get to know another one here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So comforting. That’s essential for a teacher! Marveling how you didn’t meet the Mrs. Cooleys until you were grown and in the field – and the world so needs more like her. Your students-to-be are so fortunate!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my goodness, Fran. This brought tears to my eyes and heart. It is a beautiful, beautiful poem. A love poem, a poem of tribute. Really an epistlolary form we just learned about in the course I took with Georgia Heard. This is really something. Heartwarming essence, superb form. I hope it finds a home in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is an epistolary poem – since it is addressed to Mrs. Cooley. Hadn’t thought of it that way. That’s how it came out. It IS a love poem. In my youth I’d never have thought I loved her (she did terrify me), and I wouldn’t have chosen her as a favorite… with the passing of time, however, she stands out by far. For so many reasons. Most of all, looking back, I see how she hooked me for life with a love of story and reading, and for that I will love her forever. Thank you for these words, dear Janet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fran,
        With your permission I would like to share this Georgia Heard. She was our teacher. I am sure she would love it, too. As a 40 + year teacher (now over 50) and yes I am old but very young at heart…… these are the kinds of things we live for, right?
        Let me know but I imagine it will be fine with you since this is public……..

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Fourth grade was the charm for me. Her name was Miss Love and she made it into my verse novel. I love how you discovered her soft side. Reading with a teacher is special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seriously thought I might not live through Old Yeller, Tabatha – even writing the poem brought emotion back. That is the year I learned the true power of books and story (and the read-aloud). I am forever grateful. Thank you!

      Like

  6. It is a beautiful love poem for Mrs. Cooley, Fran, all the parts important but you didn’t know they were & Mrs. Cooley did. How many special things she gave & now you know, another gift. I had a high school teacher for two years in advanced English & I don’t remember much about what we called her except that it wasn’t very nice. All these years I have realized that her tough ways & incredible teaching things to us have stood me well time after time. After a long time since graduation, I did write her to thank her. Thank you for your poem reminder that may serve for others’ memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mrs. Cooley was so wise – she knew exactly what she was doing, all along. In addition the passion for reading, she gave me my first real inkling of people not being what they seem on the outside … underneath that crusty exterior beat a kind and loving heart. I am thankful you got to thank your teacher – I can only imagine how much that meant to her!

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  7. I can only hope that I touch a student’s life like this. What a beautiful poem. I wish she could read your words and know the heart print she left behind!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish she knew, too, Leigh Anne…perhaps she does. And I feel certain that with your love of students and your passion for writing, especially, that you have indeed touched their lives this way – forever. Thank you. 🙂

      Like

  8. The way you’ve brought us in on these moments – the fall on the playground, the home visit, the conversation, the chuckle. Everything else grows so beautifully around and from it. And your revelation around Old Yeller:
    “My God my God /
    I almost died with /
    that dog” — I’m right there with you, listening to that chapter in awe and disbelief.

    I’d like to think that Ms. Cooley DID know that you were a teacher, that she would once again chuckle, and her soft blue eyes would once again go soft and watery. It might be a surprise to her (to you both!) but nonetheless a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Your Mrs. Cooley was my Mrs. Simon. I was jealous of friends that had the other younger, more interesting teachers. But, Mrs. Simon read books that I fell in love with and asked us to create poetry anthologies filled with our newly learned cursive writing. I would love to talk to her now. Thank you for this poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fran, this poem is a fine tribute to your 4th-grade teacher. At first, I felt your teacher was stern but you shared how she had a loving and gentle side. There is always one teacher who turns a child onto the powers of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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