Tell me without telling me poem

Yesterday on Ethical ELA’s VerseLove, Scott McCloskey invited teacher-poets to compose around “tell me without telling me,” the popular social media meme from a few years ago: “Tell us (through vivid sensory details and whatnot) that you are __________ without telling us you are __________. ” In his model, Scott masterfully incorporated many fragments of famous poems that have inspired him to write, followed by this reveal: “Tell me you’re a poet without telling me you’re a poet.”

So for Day 9 of National Poetry Month, here’s mine… it incorporates bits I’ve written before… and there’s SO much more to write…

It all began, I suppose,
in a darkened room
when Grandma plugged
this thing called a color wheel…

it sat on the floor, rotating, illuminating
the all-foil Christmas tree.
There in the dark
the sparkling silver tree
transitioned to red, blue, gold…

a stillness, a riveting

There was a girl
in my childhood church
who played the piano
accompanying the sanctuary choir.
Once, she stood alone
in front of the handbell table
reaching, grasping,
her white-gloved hands
a blur of choreography
playing those bells solo
never missing a note.
She was sixteen.

a stillness, a holding of breath

I don’t remember
learning how to read.
It was just a thing I could do.
But in fourth grade, the teacher
(built like a mountain, with a face
and heart of carved stone)
read to us every day.
An intelligent, artistic spider
who saved a less-than-radiant pig.
A boy who didn’t want that annoying,
subversive, endearing, ol’ yeller dog
that ended up saving his life, 
before picking up the shotgun…

My God. My God.
I almost died with that dog

and there have been books
in my hands,

in stacks by my bed,
ever since.

a stillness, an absorbing

There’s more, so much more.

At nineteen, 
walking into the community theater audition
where the handsomest man I ever saw
sat with a script…

we were married in less than six months.

Thirty-seven years this summer.

Two years in, when he said he was called 
to preach, I said
Well, you’ll be miserable 
unless you do.

a stillness, an abiding

Our oldest son saying
over and over
I’ll never go in the ministry.
It’s too hard a life.
Not getting married or
having any kids, either.

Just after he enrolled
in seminary,
he met a lovely young lady
with a little daughter
named for the title character
of his favorite book.
In the fullness of time
and in the span of a month
he became a husband, father, 
and pastor.

It was ordained. Jehovah jireh.
God provides.

Last fall, he named his newborn daughter
Micah. Which means
Who is like God?

Indeed, who?

I am still, and know.

*******

(Tell me you are awed without telling me you are awed)

(likely to be continued…)

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