Braided and Dashed — Poems on a birthday eve…


Strands of silver
Woven in the old way
Hand over hand over hand

Build a sluicing melody
Rushing against the damming
Demands of time

as it speeds along
in sightless pursuit
of a crooked path

sketched onto a map
long hidden,
ragged ends folded amiss.


Like a sunrise
across the striped limestone
hills, not so distant

Time brightens aged gullies,
green, now, with unexpected rain
life lengthens and inhales possibility

No hyphen here to join
pieces of idea,
but rather dashes
marking ends and beginnings
of interruptions.


Tools of the Trade — thoughts on home ownership (week 1)

As I clamped the pliers down on the disappointingly named decorator hook and it bent into a shape utterly unrecognizable as a hook, I thought, “I should have known better. They’re called “decorator hooks”; OF COURSE they are made of cruddy pot metal that won’t hold up to any serious twist.” I had pre-“drilled” a hole using a hammer and nail, and still, the underside of the MDF cabinet wouldn’t take the pretty little hooks I’d picked for hanging my measuring spoons and cups without mangling the hooks. I sighed, such a waste of elbow grease. Did the math – about two bucks for ten essentially useless, but pretty, hooks. Lesson learned (again): if you can’t handle and examine the product before you buy it (especially when it comes to hardware) there’s a good chance that it is, well, crap. Back to the hardware store, this time for hooks which are less pretty and more functional. Fine.

In the master bedroom, as I set up the somewhat tall, massive, buffet-style table that I built a few years back, with the notion of using it to fold clothes and to hold my jewelry boxes, I’m still rather amazed that the only major flaw is that (just) one leg is about a centimeter shorter than the other three. I cut the lumber for that table with a handsaw. A HANDsaw. I measured everything carefully, but still that one leg got away from me. Though the table is hardly what you might call beautiful, it is exactly what I wanted; I should take the time to plane the other legs down to match the short one. But, I never do. You should see my plane, so antiquated as to be nearly a joke. A plane requiring elbow grease. I use it. But I try to keep it to a minimum. I’m low on elbow grease, and they don’t sell that stuff at the hardware store.

Having purchased a home, I think I might have done well to also invest heavily in a hardware / paint store. I’ve lived here four nights, and already I need a new key for the hot water feed to the washer (that side is drippy at the handle), a decent drill with concrete-capable bit, paint for the façade — not to mention the front entryway — a couple of quarts of hole-filler putty, a good pair of cable cutters to dispose of the tv cable in inconvenient places. I’m sure more such details will occur to me over the weeks and months and years to come. Maybe if I’d invested in a hardware store, I could convince them to stock elbow grease.


PS. Ridiculously happy in my new place in spite of minor details. I’m dreaming and drawing it into the shape I’d like it to take. No doubt, this will be a project of some planning and time. <3

On Students and Other Strangers (revised from ’09)

I was led back to this multi-genre piece by the friend (one time student) who asked me to write it for one of his final projects. I was stunned not to find it in my files, and he was good enough to resend it. So while he’s off on inspiring adventures all over the place, I thought you might like to have a peek. I used to call him double-O-seven, because as a yearbook staff member, he could get his mitts on anything. A terrific person all the way around. I’m so lucky to be a teacher and learner of THIS kind of person. There are so many of them! NOTE: I’ve adjusted to make the timing make more sense now.


Approximately seven years ago I was accosted in the hall by a student from a grade that I’ve never taught and hassled about books.

“Ms. Head,” the strange, but vaguely-familiar looking young man said to me. “Have you ever read ‘X’ by ‘Y’?” Let’s face it: I’ve slept since then; I have no idea what books he asked about. I wasn’t really listening in any case. I was trying to figure out which of my students he reminded me of.

Still, I must have responded to the question, because not to do so would have been rude. I think there was more conversation, perhaps more questions. But I was still trying to figure out who the student reminded me of.

Time passed. A week? A month? A year? Enough time for me to forget about the hallway book-assault.

I was walking from my classroom toward the elevator. I’m sure my mind was wandering around in the stars somewhere, distracted by English department business, or NHS business, or some other business. From the far end of the hallway down by Mr. Miranda’s room, I heard, “Ms. Head! Ms. Head!!” Lo and behold, Book Boy strode toward me. I remember being amused, even laughing out loud at the eagerness that lit up his eyes and ran like electric current into his smile. I know for certain that he way-laid me twice in the hallway to ask about books, but there may have been more than two occasions. I remember being floored, knocked-flat, astonished, speechless, flabbergasted to see a student so excited about reading that he was walking the halls looking for book experts. Secretly, I couldn’t wait for him to be a Senior.

The wait seemed interminable, but eventually one August I saw that curiously familiar face pass by me in the hallway, “Good morning, Ms. Head,” he said as he reached for the brushed steel handle of my classroom door. While his work was often far from perfect, or less than punctual, his enthusiasm masked unsightly flaws.

All year long, his writings were daring, and sometimes wrought as with iron or steel: the sound of the furnace roaring in our ears and sweat obscuring our eyes. From the thoughtful analysis of nature symbols in Hardy, to lyrics that take the shine off the enameled gloss of self-destructive relationships, R– has a way of making old things new again, and new things familiar and comfortable.

Let the resplendent blade of the sun
bear down on the time-faded sands
Let the moon sprinkle false rains
over desert hills
Let time glide down the window pane
while I slip another page through my fingers
and look up to see the bookwright’s back
far down the hall from whence he used to come…


Sorting — a piece of thought (think piece)

Packing up the things that have helped turn the house I’ve lived in over the last 6 years into a home I’ve found a lot of trash (and tossed it) and a few treasures (and packed them carefully into boxes). Pictures of family now gone, big groups of us together, lost earrings, broken earrings that I can use to fix another broken pair, but mostly a lot of trash. And I’ve listened to music relentlessly. New to me music (Kodaly, Ysaye, Sibelius among others), and old favorites (Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Def Leppard, Beatles). The music makes the packing easier, somehow. I’m reluctant to try to explain.

* * *

As the things that make my home my own gather themselves (apparently) into carefully arranged boxes and bags and piles, I find myself in the most curious position of thinking about how odd life is, and that the things that make me most uncomfortable are also sometimes the things that give me the greatest delight.

As much as I hate packing, and moving, I am kind of in love with moving right now. I assume that’s because this particular move is to a house I am buying. I’ve always had a knack for making a house my home regardless of who it belonged to, but this time, for real, the house will be mine (someday, many moons from now when all the payments are made).

I have loved taking down every little detail: fan pulls given to me by a dear friend ages ago, the unicorn doo dads, the remarkable number of art works done for me by former students, tapestries I’ve carted all over creation. Even the sorting of DVDs, clothes, earrings, photos and papers has been interesting and enlightening. What a life!

As I sort, I try to figure out, again, how to explain to those who despair of my ever returning “home”, that this is home. Truthfully, I’m probably closer to “home” now than I might have been had I not ever come to Mexico to work for a year, and finally to make my life. In miles, anyway. I think it’s the international border that causes discomfort. Or maybe it’s the US perception of Mexico as a dangerous place over the last few years.

* * *

There is nothing particularly remarkable about moving. People do it all the time. I have wrapped bottles and treasures of various sorts in newspaper and stashed them in boxes: shells, glass unicorns, bottles of patchouli and lavender oil, the gaming pc and its wireless keyboard and mouse. I’ve stumbled across photos I didn’t even know existed (how does that happen?). I’ve sorted through old medicines and vitamins and thrown out anything that was in doubt. I’ve gone through my closet and tossed or given away anything I’ve not worn in a year. I decided to pack all soft things (clothes, sheets, towels, etc) in plastic bags. I’ve thought about what I might need in my new place, and what I can use and what I can live without.

I despised this house when I first moved in, and was sure I wouldn’t be here more than a year, two at the very most. But now, six years later, I’m grateful for the space this house has given me to grow as a person, to let go of ideas that no longer fit what I want, what I need. As annoying as the daily little league games are every day of summer vacation, I will miss their white noise blending with the mockingbird songs in the morning. I want to pack up the mockingbirds and take them with me. I’ve already told them. I think they are following me. I will need a tree to give them.

In a year or so I will be fully unpacked and know what I really need, what I really don’t. In the meantime, the anticipation of Christmas in July is enough to keep me going. The idea of doing all this alone (buying a house, packing, moving in, unpacking) before I began, was rather overwhelming. But now that I’ve begun, I am starting to see how all this work can come together to build a new, or maybe a continued, version of a life I’ve longed for, even if it looks nothing like the original yearning.

Mandatory fun — Taking wing: a graduation speech (2014)


I’m really posting this by request of my students, so if you’re one of my regular readers I hope you’ll forgive my indulging them. It didn’t come off as well as I had imagined — the mic was shaking the entire time — but at least my knees didn’t buckle. I had fun watching them tonight, and despite my protests, I fear that I will, indeed, miss this group — white noise miss.

SRs of 2014: you will notice which bits got cut, I think. This is the original scripted version that I cut on the spot tonight when it just seemed too much. Anyway, I hope it was what you wanted, or at the very least that you remember Ms. H’s one and only piece of advice — right after the thing about redefining success.’-) Be safe, be well, and keep in touch. ~LD

Taking Wing

Whan that April with hes shoures soote, the drought of March hath perced to the roote — Just kidding.

It’s been so long since I’ve stood in front of people and said an “important thing” on purpose. I think it was about two and a half weeks ago. But it’s different in room 211. Here there be others – administrators, parents, siblings, my esteemed colleagues. =) In room 211 we can be more “a gusto” so, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t seem quite myself.

But, I am honored beyond breath that you invited me to take you as a captive audience one last time. I figure the nervousness must be reasonable retribution.

And for all of you who came out tonight to celebrate the Seniors of 2014, known quietly, and among certain circles as one of CAT’s “golden generations”, please bear with us, and me, while I drag us (some more willingly than others) to the end of the road we started together way back in August of 2013.

Do please be sure you’re speaking in English. Please be sure the people around you are speaking in English – still kidding.

* * *

The plan, back in August of 2013, was to send you away with the usual things — Beowulf and Chaucer and Shakespeare, maybe some writing skills if we could manage them. At that moment I couldn’t predict what we would face together and much less what I would want to you to know, especially since I’m not the world’s most consistent model of “how to be”.

Since then, I’ve read thousands of pages (I’m pretty sure this is not hyperbole), of your thoughts, experiences, and interpretations of what you’ve read and what you’ve lived. Knowing a bit about you from your pages, I think I want to tell you what I wish I had had a grown up friend – one I would actually listen to — to tell me when I was sitting in chairs similar to the ones you’re sitting in now, anxious to get started with REAL LIFE – There are a million things on that list (and you KNOW I don’t give advice), but I think all of the million are built around just this one thing: GO SLOW.

Sometimes, I’m a little jealous of your high school experience, I don’t really remember my senior year in high school – I know that I worked, went to track practice and track meets, went to debate practice and debate tournaments, spent too much time with my socially unacceptable boyfriend, and generally filled my days with so much activity that I fell into bed unconscious rather than asleep at night. I was busy trying to forget that high school and that phase of my life had ever existed. I KNOW that for the most part your high school experience has not been like mine was. But, you’ve made yourself do a lot of running, by not giving yourself the time you needed to do things walking. Do I need to insert the word “procrastination” here? You’ve had your share of problems with life and problems with school, but you’ve had some fun and made some friends along the way – keep having fun and making friends, just slower.

*GO SLOW: From here on in the “problems” get harder“, more real, and with more lasting consequences; you will need time to think through situations and people and opportunities. People — your friends, your professors, your family, sometimes even you – will want you to hurry up and be, hurry up and do, or hurry up and decide. My experience has been that there are almost always at least 24 hours in which to make up your mind about virtually everything no matter how urgent it may seem.

Quick story: After I finished my masters – about the time you started nursery school (maternal) — I really struggled to find a job. I worked five part time jobs to pay the bills. Life was hard. I was frustrated. One day, I got an email from a friend offering me a job in another country. In the time it took to read and respond to her email (which even in 1999 was pretty fast) I made a decision. The decision was a good one for me over the long term, and I am deliriously happy with how my life has turned out, but the way I made the decision, not thinking it through even a little bit had some disastrous consequences in my relationships. If I had taken a breath, and slept on it, talked to the people I cared about, I might have salvaged some of those relationships, even if my decision was the same.

Twenty-four hours is a long time to think about a thing and think about it well. MAKE time to think if you have to, but go slow, think, and breathe.

So, GO SLOW. Feel the sand between your toes. Stroll leisurely through love, studying, decision-making, every struggle and every experience (you can’t imagine how amazing those adventures will be!) — do everything as if it were all a Sunday walk on the beach during vacation. Feel what you feel in the moment you feel it. Be in love when you’re in love – it doesn’t happen as often as you think. Be happy when your budget goes all the way to the quincena AND you unexpectedly get to go for ice cream (or a movie or whatever treat it is that has become a luxury). Be sad when love or friendship slips away. Feel strong when you keep going even though your heart is a little bit broken. Be angry or frustrated when life seems to spin out of your control. You will find the way to get things back on track more easily if you can see and feel and be present in your life every moment.

Look, all the things are going to happen – you will study university and have a degree (or more than one), you’ll have a job and live entirely from your own efforts, you’ll pay your bills, take care of your house or apartment, do your own laundry, cook your own meals (even if it’s just maruchan), have a pet whose LIFE you are responsible for by yourself. You will fall madly in love with the exactly right person, and buy a house, get married (if that’s what you decide to do) and have kids (if that’s what you decide to do), – and all those things will happen regardless of what speed you go, and they will happen whether you are ready for them or not. It is awesome to be going slow enough to notice the WONDER of their happening, like a smile from a stranger on the street.

GO SLOW step away from the screen sometimes, on purpose, just to walk down the sidewalk and look people in the eye and smile – tell them good morning. Put your phone, your ipod, your tablet away (and silence it) when you are with people who matter, or when you are blowing bubbles just for fun. Callers will wait for you to return their call or message when you are ready to check back in. Be gentle with yourself if you look around and see that sometimes you’ve gone too fast.

GO SLOW because, even if you DO go slow, it will feel like only a few minutes have passed when you are sitting out there where those nice people are, watching your own kids graduate from high school.

I would have liked to have this talk come up more naturally, at a carne asada, with some good food,, some good music, and good conversation, but you asked me to be HERE, to say this one last thing as “your teacher.” That’s part of my job. One of the easy parts of my job.

As a matter of fact,

the hardest part of my job isn’t NOT getting to have this talk at a carne asada, nor is the hardest part of my job reading and commenting on 10,000 Think Pieces every Friday night, or grading student essays, or dealing with all the administrative things. Not even saying “hasta la vista” tonight is the hardest thing about being a teacher for me.

No, the hardest thing about being a teacher is knowing that when I walk into class in mid-August, the faces before me will not be the beloved faces, these faces, that I have come to know over the past ten fleeting months.

By August, you will have flown afield, and will have left Room 211 filled with the scent of your feathers. Fly far and wide and fearless. I will build new wings with the feathers you leave in your wake. I love you guys.

Thanks for a great year.

para “mis” seniors 2014 — Carta para todos

8 Junio 2014

Aquí en el calor de mi casita a las 10:30 de la mañana (ups, ya son las once), tomando un café, echando unos quien sabe cuantos cigarros pensando en el notorio “speech.” Ya lo tengo redactado, escrito. Pero solamente el final me suena. Sigo buscando como decirles TODO pero TODO. Se me hace imposible en éste momento. Imposible como construir alas desde cero mientras el tiempo vuela.

Lo que me gustaría en éste momento es encontrar en mi el poema que va a Uds. Rascarlo de mi piel, llorarlo con mis lagrimas, latirlo con mi corazón, revivirlo con el hígado pero que quede preciso el hecho de lo que siento, lo que había sentido para Uds. Pero me cuesta caro, me cuesta violencia contra mi, sentir todo lo que siento. Al fondo. Donde se sienten, donde se sientan todos los momentos preciosos de la vida que dejan huella por bien o por mal. Tienen allí sus sillones con cojín rojo oscuro de terciopelo, toman sus copas como si fuera cualquier día de un fin de semana, pinches alcohólicos los sentimientos.

De hecho me puse de malas copas anoche con el propósito de sacármelo todo, simplemente para tenerlo fuera de mi, donde lo puedo ver y con suerte manejarlo. Ni bien arreglada me salió. Por eso me encuentro hoy aquí otra vez, hablando desde mi otra voz, mi otro yo (hoy media cruda) a ver si me nace otra parte de lo que quiero decir.

Hace poco uno de uds. me dijo, “Sal de aquí, Miss. Deja de lidiar con los rollos y pendejadas de adolecentes.” ¿Y luego que? ¿Como explicaría otra huida a mi alma que invierte año tras año en una idea, un sueño de mantener viva la esperanza en el ser humano a través de la practica sencilla de la pregunta honesta, la reacción abierta? Al final de cuentas, es el único “benchmark” de mi clase que me importa – ¿aprendieron a pensar bien, preguntar lo que quieren saber (de un texto, una persona, una situación, de si mismo)? ¿Aprendieron responder constructivamente a su mundo real con curiosidad, y veracidad? ¿Practicaron el exquisito y complejo hecho de florecer como un ser humano educado, culto, generoso, bondadoso, pero real, autentico?

Todos los años más o menos en mayo, los que van a graduar me preguntan, “?Nos vas a echar de menos, Miss?” Cuando me preguntó un alumno éste año, creo que contesté honestamente por primera vez en mi vida como docente: La verdad es que no. Para mi, echar de menos (to really miss someone or something) es tenerlo siempre presente, como un ruido blanco constante en las partes traseras de la mente. Uno puede funcionar así, pero nunca se suelta por completo. Ya sé por los varios años (osea, VARIOS años) que tengo de experiencia como maestra que la relación entre maestr@ y alumn@ no funciona así, aunque es una experiencia sin igual en todo el universo tarde o temprano nos soltaremos – a veces nada más por un rato, a veces para siempre. Más bien en lugar de echarlos de menos, con frecuencia – y más por lo especial que Uds., mis “seniors” de 2014, representan para mi, como si fueron en verdad mis propios hijos – me voy a topar con alguien o algo que me recordará de ti o de ti o de ti, o de varios de Uds. a la vez. En éste momento no puedo imaginar que serán dichas cosas pero estaré esperándolas con gusto.

Con gusto y disgusto he vivido mil millones de cosas interesantes, espantosas, increíbles, maravillosas en los cortos años de mi vida; a veces me levanto en la mañana y pienso en lo que escribió Borges, “No has despertado a la vigilia, sino a un sueño anterior. Ese sueño está dentro de otro, y así hasta lo infinito, que es el número de los granos de arena. El camino que habrás de desandar es interminable. . .” Hoy me acostaré a unos sueños que habitarán todos uds, y cuando me despierte en agosto, serán un sueño dentro de otro sueño nuevo.

Que les vaya muy bien y con las alas fuertes y hábiles que pasaron esos últimos cuantos años construyendo específicamente para los viajes y sueños que siguen.


On Dreams — NaPoWriMo #25 (anaphora with a twist)

I miss this phone. I miss phones like this. Or maybe it was all a dream.

I miss this phone. I miss phones like this. Or maybe it was all a dream.

Dreams come on waves
As the last rays of sun carry away
yesterday’s memory
today’s work
tomorrow’s yearning

On waves dreams come
like the ring of a playskool phone.
I pick up the smiling red plastic
handset and hear
my own voice
from a parallel time, saying

Waves on dreams come
swirling ‘round the foot
of this bed, wafting the dreamer
out to sea,
quilts billowing as sails

Come waves on dreams
to lash against the stern
and slosh over the gunwales
rocking the feeble ship,
flapping the heavy sails.
When finally skies begin to clear,

Come waves on dreams
of tomorrow’s yearning.
Waves on dreams come
of today’s work.
On waves dreams come
of yesterday’s memory.
Dreams come on waves
as the first rays of sun enter
on waves.


I decided to mess about some with the anaphora here — it was fun. ‘-) I wonder what you make of it. Terrible idea? Fabulous idea? Somewhere in between?