Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Work I knew

I think of the work I knew, an orchestration of hands, eyes, feet and voice.
hands stiff with knots and chalky white, itchy- dry skin,
eyes darting here and  everywhere, blurry
from looking at incomprehensible squiggles,
feet and ankles, always aching, worrying
that the body was at the wrong end
that the bell would ring too soon
for all the time I spent
writing on the board, commenting
on  papers, praising and cajoling
so much to do
the voice getting louder and more strident at the end
of the hour.

Whatever I did, it was not  a sure thing,
a concrete thing, a dress, a hat
a set of drapes to keep the light out.
Seams, pleats,  tiny folds
my hands might nimbly guide 
through the Singer pedal,blessing each
one straight, tight,  a perfect
tension to the very end.

Jennifer never learned to read
Mario refused to sit still
Julio drew himself a mess of weeds
that got him strung out on the streets.

Millions of words fogged those rooms and  those
 hours,  #2 pencils sharpened constantly,
Catcher In The Rye, Julio Cesar, essays collected
or returned all in an hour.
Then, the Great  Escape  to  empty houses
after we were all spent.

Nothing exists to account  for the work of those years,
Papers in the file cabinets were emptied at the end
And thrown out with the day's trash.


  1. this is so eloquent rosaria. and sad. a lovely paean to the enormous amount of time you dedicated to countless classrooms of students. even with those kids you think didn't learn anything you can bet they did. a good teacher is never wasted on any student.

  2. Did you mean to say Juloo Ceasar because it evoked such a powerful image for me. . .

  3. Amanda--And yet, the feeling that everything is so ephemeral, so hard to contain, to see.

    Normal--I started with Julius Caesar, the play, but wanting that double meaning, so I changed to go with the boy in the previous stanza.

    I was thinking of so many lives I really couldn't get to know; they didn't want me to know; I was too scared or tired to do much more than concentrate on that hour when we were together.

  4. Nice to see people still writing (and thinking) in these oft troubled times. Good luck.

  5. Whatever I did, it was not a sure thing,
    a concrete thing, a dress, a hat...

    Beautifully painful and yet I can't help but know that while I might wear a dress or a hat, what has touched me more has been the passing word or hand or gesture.

    So important, this piece, you.


  6. somehow your labor
    brought forth
    a child
    that was the better
    for having you grace his path
    maybe he will only look back
    when he's 85, perhaps
    and remember you cajoled
    and maybe his name will be Mario
    and he will smile
    because you would be proud
    that now he sits still

    I loved this poem
    loved how it oozed
    how it asked questions
    beautiful lines

  7. Buona domenica con un sorriso

  8. I loved the use of sewing, creating to illustrate the imperfect unpredictable nature of teaching.

    I came away with the same thought as Suz - I could never say it as well as she did, but I do think that the impression you had on all of these children cannot be measured by tests or reading. You were part of the fabric that made them who they are. There is part of you in each of them.

    Beautiful writing.

  9. Wanting to keep the seams straight "a perfect tension to the very end." Great metaphor for the work in the classroom. Lovely poem.

  10. I disagree with "Nothing exists to account for the work of those years," but Suz (above) has said it better than I could.

    I love your poem, though, and can even see that "account" can refer to something in writing, a paper record, and not to the influence on a life. The latter, I know you had.