Encounters with Treasure

Some thoughts on Joyce's ribbon seeking boy in "Araby".

Some thoughts on Joyce’s ribbon-seeking boy in “Araby”.

A ribbon marks the page
where she sketched out
the verses that became
the lines on her face.

The ends of the ribbon
peek out from acid leaves,
frayed and faded
by years of exposure and neglect.

But here in the gutter —
lying next to her forgotten,
scattered-ink hand —
the shine on the ribbon

still holds the color of truth.




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…


Booklist, affectionately in re-creation

As you know, I read a lot.  I read everyday.  And not just the stuff I have to read (student papers, memos, articles on education), but I read a little bit for fun every single day.    Most books, articles, stories and poems I can see the title or the cover and I know I’ve read it, but I may not remember the details.  But if I read the first line, I nearly always do.  I haven’t a clue how many books I’ve read in my life, but I’d guess in the thousands. Sadly, I’ve lost the book list I had so carefully begun compiling when I was in first grade, the first year that I read more than a hundred books.  The last time I remember seeing it was in college, when I was still diligently adding each book to the list as I read it: title then author in neatly lettered pen on notebook paper. In 2010, I began trying to recreate that list.

The recreation of the list has been interesting.  Most of what’s there at the moment (I’m up to nearly 500 books) are the old classics and the books I’ve read in the last five years or so.  I think now that I need to add the year that I read a book, and where applicable, when I reread it. The gathering of titles and authors has been challenging.  In some cases I have to go back to the book and read the first few lines to make sure that I don’t just think I read the book because I think I should have read it. So no, no War and Peace no matter how much I think it’s a book that should be read.

Other novels have returned to my eyes like long lost family. I read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm because my mom made me, but when I saw the title I was taken back to winter breaks filled with similar stories of girls who were not “normal” girls – climbing trees and chasing frogs and rooting around in the dirt.  Which, of course, reminded me of throwing up all over my brand new hardback copy of Little House on the Prairie one Christmas break long ago.  I was so sad I couldn’t stop crying while I was (still) throwing up.  Mom and Dad graciously bought me another beautiful copy (which was later destroyed in a dorm flood. I gave up Little House after that).

I remembered, too, the summer that I read almost nothing except Agatha Christie and Anne McCaffery novels.  There was a great little used book store not far from the ranch we were living on that year, and though I don’t remember the book store very well, I do remember the small bookshelf at the ranch house we were living in.  I put the new ones at the end, in front of the ones I’d finished the week before.  When we moved in, the shelves had been empty; by the time we left, the shelves were full and the additional books were stacked on the floor to one side.

Revisiting these books even in brief has been instructive.  I suspect, frankly, that I read a bit too much for “fun” and not quite enough for “meaning.” But then again, the ones that stay with me return again and again for fresh viewing; even without a re-read I find connections in the experiences I’ve accumulated since that initial meeting.  Somewhere along the way I started keeping a “great lines” file for golden nuggets that must not be lost. I love going back to those files to remember and think again about the relative meaning of a single quotation outside the context of the entire events of a book.  I don’t know how long it will take me to re-compile my booklist, but to date it has been an interesting experience, and I am already amazed at how much I’ve read in my life – and knowing how many blank places there are that still need to be filled with some of the amazing good books out there.