notations from a present-day teacher and formerly-frustrated student

first published by great weather for MEDIA


  1. I thought it was because of the desks, which were never quite big enough to contain my well-read anxieties. Always entertained by the carvings of other restless minds, I frequently ran out of classrooms, cloaked in my invisibility.
  1. They call me teacher now. Professor. Mis-pronouning me, but I let them.
  1. I spent much of senior year in high school in a small classroom for other detainees with behavioral issues. They didn’t like that I chose my skin to carve instead of the gum-stuck desks. They didn’t like that I skipped gym class because I couldn’t articulate why I felt so uncomfortable in the girls’ locker room.
  1. A student shares with me a history of mental illness and a desire to keep trying to exit. I think about all the ways to convince this student to remain, knowing words are too much like band-aids: they cover up, but the wound remains. I do not share that I am a survivor of myself as well. I do not announce all the ways I tried: Kurt Vonnegut the first time, Diane Arbus more times than I could count, couldn’t bare a Hunter S. Thompson or Hemingway (but knew others who did), oven could not hold me like Sylvia, too afraid of water to Virginia, tried to Sarah Kane myself twice, too many Kurt Cobains and Brautigans that I couldn’t bare to join the list, thought about a Spalding Grey, not bold enough to Yukio Mishima, but something still keeps me here.
  1. When I got into graduate school, I thought I’d be finally be okay.
  1. These students are like notebooks with hard-to-read-but-worth-squinting-for footnotes and hidden pockets and four leaf clovers stuck into the pages.
  1. Even amongst other poets and imaginators, I had a difficult time committing to being alive.
  1. As a teacher, I think about every book on my book shelves and all the ones I still need to read and how to climb so many pages into a semester without them losing track or losing faith. So I Audre Lorde them and James Baldwin them. So I Zora Neale Hurston and Claudia Rankine them. I Gabriel Garcia Marquez their minds. I Vera Pavlova and Naomi Shihab Nye them. Give them Allen Ginsburg and Amiri Baraka. I Rilke and Junot Diaz them until they cannot breathe. Until finally, they gasp, feeling the smoke of poetry and magical prose envelope them. Changing their shape. Sweltering their minds open.
  1. I wasn’t even supposed to graduate high school. 41 days missed, sophomore year. Failed math and can’t remember going to physics. Maybe they felt sorry for me. Maybe they hoped giving me that paper would keep me from climbing further out.
  1. I fill the classroom with blank pieces of paper. Tell them: these are your boxes. Think of all the times you’ve been presented with squares and labels which do not match who you are. This is your time to fill it with your So, I watch them approach their box. Fill in with words like: human, mother, biracial, Hispanic, poor, student, wife, bisexual, alive, battered, left behind, a question mark.
  1. I memorized the offices of every guidance counselor I ever had. Ms. Lefthand. Ms. Rosenblum. Ms. Garguilo. When I would forget how to swallow all the grey in me, I’d sit and they’d hold me with their ears and eyes. And also Ms. Herkus (7th grade English teacher) and Ms Runquist/Soback (creative writing teacher) and Ken DiMaggio and and and and.
  1. They expect me to forget them. To lose faith in them. I understand how difficult it is to keep walking through doors, sitting at desks never big enough for all the handouts, putting names on things they don’t always understand. They expect me to stop caring, stop noticing them, stop coming. But. They are the ones who keep me here. Head out of ovens. I hang on now. Persist. Hoping they will to.