Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes for Young Children

Cover of orange, green and yellow

I see you, your pictures telling stories of teacups and shoe houses

Pocked pages dog-eared and jaundiced

How, when I was a child, you gave me visions

Of blue pastures and orange moons

That cows could jump over

While some feline was playing a fiddle

And dishes and spoons ran for the hills

Of yellow eggs sitting on top of blackened walls

(I grew to fear a great fall)

Or old ladies who lived in footwear

And that father, gone a-hunting

Had left me alone

Although my mother never milked

And my sister never silked

I grew to believe moons had faces

And that parents were irresponsible to let

Jack and Jill fetch

Like dogs

Water that was clearly too heavy

But what grew most

Was my ear

As rhymes bounced across my eardrums

Vowels were sadness or love

Consonants could crash like cymbals

Or sweep like wind through wheatfields

And make me feel a thing

That bloomed as a red rose

Or a blue violet

Stretched out its petals in sunlight

And lived

I began this on the back of your picture when I saw your hair

As I brush your hair

My hands draw each stroke

Like a painter

 

My world becomes a canvas

      There is a weeping willow

           Tall and solemn

              To the right

                     Soon I see a pond

Light breaks across the water

   And sparkles back in pinhead dew

      Poised atop wan stalks of grass

                                                Flecks of rippled light

                                      Hop across the water’s surface

                                          And fade

                                                             I see a path before me

                                                               Its edges skirt the forest

                                                                  Whose dark blanket

                                                                        Has shawled itself across the background

                                                                          Stretched across the green

                                                                               And vanished at some point

                                                                                    I cannot see

                                                                   

And I know you are there

     As I step into the path

          That now rings the water

                As I walk

                       Two swans bend their lithe necks

                           Like downy white questions

     Turn back to me

                                    Glide across the water

                                           Float softly to its edge

                                                Their white backs shudder

                                                            And water flies

You are there I know

       But all I see

           Beyond the swans

               The pond

                    The willow

                         Is light

                           Aching through the branches

                                    Of still pines

And soon it is done

     I lay down the brush

          As you walk away

                Your head soaked

                     And already moving toward morning

 

 

When the drying comes

 

Our Day at Stonecrop

As a writer, one thing I’ve come to understand, at least as regards my own style, is that the old maxim about writing – “real writers write every day” – is sometimes a falsehood, especially if “write” means “to finish” or even “to envision.”  Real writers try to write every day, but sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes the writing is happening in an experience, or a moment…a visit to a place, with friends, talking, growing, changing…            Last Friday was a day that came to an end with a group of friends.  We began, however, merely as peers, a fellowship on a common quest.  The car ride brimmed with conversation.  We soon arrived, after a trip over a bridge whose view felt like we could each be Henry Hudson staring at the grandeur of the river for the first time.            The first thing that popped into my head was the sense of beauty and rustic glory this place night offer, as the road into the garden was unpaved, its rocks tinging the bottom of Julie’s car as we approached the parking lot.   The entrance pavilion, an A-frame pagoda, opens onto a small, worn path that winds its way away from the parking lot and into a thicket of willows and underbrush.  This led us into an opening where we were faced with a garden house that is a replica of a 19th century French country house.  The place was already magnificent, and we had yet to begin discovery.            The walk through

Stonecrop
Gardens took us through patches of trees, flowers exploding in red, blue, lavender, yellow, orange and pink brilliance.  There were small stone flowerbeds rich with calcium carbonate that helped the moss to grow within them; there were delicate, yellow flowers that dangled their bell-shaped blooms inches above the ground…there was a smell of clean beauty so overpowering that one could lay in the grass and forget that life with all of its filigree and tension did not actually exist, would never exist, would only grow as complex as the smell of pine and the sound of a croaking bullfrog.              And then, after our walk, it came time to “write.”  I left the group (we all went our own ways) and found a spot on a boulder that was set, serendipitously, in the center of a lake set beside a large pavilion entangled in Wisteria… 


[NP1]  

It was like a painting from ancient
China.  Nothing could disturb this place.  Not even my presence, squat, legs crossed, inert on a boulder in the middle of the lake.  As I sat on that rock, I began to feel a sense of “oneness,” as cliché as that word has become, with what surrounded me…  The air was intoxicatingly fresh.  I closed my eyes and just listened…to the water, the air, the sky…my breath…  I could feel a world – a universe – of cares lift and float away.            But I had to write… 

            And I couldn’t…  I wrote “Nothing is coming up…”  And nothing did.  Hemingway said that “worry destroys the ability to write,” and this was worry.  What was expected of me?  What would happen if I came back to our group and then…a hush falls over the crowd…I accomplished nothing…they know it…I am embarrassed…and I hate to look ridiculous…  I had to force myself to stop, to calm down, to focus on my breath…            And then it hit me.  I was composing as I sat, as I panicked, as I wrote nothing I was writing.  Because I used no paper made no difference.  Because I “produced” little made no difference.  I was writing because I heard the bullfrog; I was writing because I noticed the turtle no larger than the palm of my hand; I was writing I was thinking.  Hemingway also taught us to write the “one true sentence,” that every good writer needed to be gifted with a “foolproof bullshit detector.”  If I had written much then, it would have been disingenuous bullshit.  The fact that I could sit, there, on the rock, in that lake, at that moment and be nowhere else was more of an act of true composition than anything my struggling imagination could muster.  I closed my notebook, leaned back onto the rock and closed my eyes.  My work was as done as it would get, and there was nothing I could do about it.            The remainder of our day was spent in conversation, on the veranda of the pagoda, in the car, in the restaurant over Mexican food and mojitos…            We all wrote a story that spoke no words but resonated.  We had our moment together as “real” writers.  We left and went home, to our lives, our time, and our worlds; no one could tell us, then, that writing had not been done.


 [NP1]The bush in the center foreground…the boulder sits directly in front of it.

shouldawouldacoulda

How, in a billowy time,

we manage to flatten our sheets in the wind

as they hang from the lines and are ruffled by breezes,

is a mystery to me

and how we move on,

wind at our backs, into a Scylla of some sort

or a Charybdis of another,

and know it to be a challenge,

to be a possible loss facing us

like a mirror in a bathroom

and we smile and apply our masks anyway

is a thing of wonder

of curiosity

and I sit at times and think

of things I could have done

to scorch my own Earth a bit more

to bring the wagons together in the face of an onslaught of injuns

that I called down on me

things I could have done

that would have brought me to the precipice of nothingness

and ask myself why I didn’t

why I simply moved forward

without thinking that forward might be more sideways

or even

backward

and had I thought it

I may have made that trip to
Machu Picchu

or toMt.
Kilimanjaro
and tracked a herd of wildebeest

or seen the bears catch salmon in their mouths in
Denali

in spring as the ice thaws

and the river begins to swell

but no I didn’t

I settled like dregs in a bottle

waiting to be spread evenly across a crusty bit of bread

my fragrant and wholesome

grave.

Two who find each other again

We have come here before she mouthed with no sound, her voice suspended in the folds of her throat like the air in the pregnant moment before a bell is struck.

We

and I noticed as she began to float backward as down in wind her eyes lowered her feet tentatively pawing the tarmac

she had changed

she was older

she had crow’s feet and deepening ridges 

her hair once a golden, wild brew of curl and sunlight

flatly sat

holding to her

as if aware of its imminent loosing, tossing and loss

We have come here before I heard a whisper so frightened it barely cleared the cleft of her lips

We were here once I said when we were young

Do you remember?  You wore no shoes then either but there was grass then there is no grass now…

It’s noon she said. 

The bell from town resounded as if to call us from the river’s edge, saying don’t don’t don’t

It was summer and i was young I was young I felt the grass slip between my toes I felt the wind pull back my hair I felt

I felt

I felt

What did you feel I said

I was here once she said I was.

What did you feel I said

I was here.  I know it but who were you?  I was here I know the river tells me so…hear its lapping song along its banks?  I heard that then the grass the wind but who are you?

I am the wind I said.

How can you be the wind and laughed her crow’s feet gripped and eyes that saw the suns of seventy years brightened

She said I – we – have come here before why did you bring me she said

I have brought you here don’t so you may remember don’t the river don’t the grass don’t the wind don’t and my hand don’t

But

she said

I don’t.

I know I said.  But you have felt.

Now put on your shoes.

My dear.

Seth: A Teacher’s Story

Seth was a student unlike any other I have taught.  That fact alone made me want to know him more than others.

 Seth, a 19-year-old senior, had no control over his salivation due to the lack of properly formed muscles in the areas around his jaw and palate.  His ramshackle, yellowed teeth always reached beyond his upper lip and, in a constant effort to cope with what he could feel coming out of his mouth, he would often wipe the saliva from his face with the back of his hand and forearm, in a gesture reminiscent of the sweeping movement an infant might make to clear his face of food.  His back was a question mark, his head the dipping and querulous end tipping forward toward his audience or his direction.  He could only see peripherally from behind his thick, large rimmed glasses, and, as a result, his depth perception was faulty.  This created a need for Seth to lean forward toward whomever he was listening to because of his errant perception of their exaggerated distance, yet, while leaning, he would need to cock his head in such a way that would permit him to look at his audience through the sides or tops of his eyes.  His right arm was permanently curled like a fiddlehead fern and tucked tightly under his armpit, his left, not much more of a functional limb, moved and jumped crookedly as he walked or as he attempted to reach out and touch someone.  Touch was important for Seth; his vision, askew and blurry, was unreliable, and touch, therefore, meant a more accurate way to understand his relation to his universe. 

The problem, though, was that Seth was most definitely heterosexual.  This meant that all of the difficulties above, mixed with a 19-year old undeveloped but happily burgeoning libido, led to some awkward hallway and classroom encounters.  The classroom, and not the hallways, is where I ultimately came to know, understand, appreciate and admire Seth.

My Theatre Arts class was a semester-long elective students could take no more than twice, but Seth’s parents, who knew that his future, if not for public school, meant schools for “those types of children,” had managed to persuade the administration to allow him to take Theatre Arts as often as he wished, regardless of graduation requirements.  The goal for this child – a man, really, whose body and mind refused to cooperate – was to allow him the opportunity to socialize.  Socialization was not something he would get in a more isolated setting, and this, his parents felt, was a more important goal than academic instruction.  Theatre Arts class, then, offered him the opportunity to be with 15 to 20 other teenagers who wanted to perform and who wanted to be social.  He could not memorize; he could not learn in ways other students could; he could barely even read, and what he could read – at the pace of a struggling kindergartner – needed to be incredibly large so as to allow him to actually see the text.

His first day presented a paradox for me.  How would I involve Seth in a class that expected reading, movement, speech, interaction and memory?  How would I involve him in a way that would enrich his experience while doing the same for his peers?  Teenagers would be intimidated by his presence; this class, though, was mostly female.  The problem glared at me as he sat there, mostly uninvolved on the first day; he would interact his way, complete with touching; they would react in their way, complete with recoiling and discomfort.  I  knew I had to speak with the class, and I knew it had to be done soon.

I don’t remember exactly which day I held this conversation, but I know I timed it so Seth would be absent and, therefore, I would be more at ease to discuss his various needs and my expectations for how the class should handle their feelings toward working with Seth.  This was uncomfortable.  How could I know that what I would say would be interpreted the right way?  That I would be seen as a teacher who cared about all of their experiences as well as their growth from working together with Seth?  That I was not giving in to his obvious handicaps in a way that was condescending or arrogant?

I couldn’t know.  That was the most aggravating part of the experience.  The students, however, came to the table with more maturity than I ever thought teenagers would muster.  One of my students, a young lady with a rich background of theatre experience – her mother was a “theatre parent,” somewhat akin to the “soccer mom” in her vehemence – led the conversation and was clear that she felt no discomfort.  This was echoed by the other members of the class.  This openness and adult thinking immediately resolved one of the issues embedded in the problem of teaching Seth:  the need to have a welcoming social atmosphere.  The second issue was a bit more perplexing:  How would I teach this boy?

I resolved that, at all costs, and no matter the activity, this boy must be included on a physical level every single day.  He must be made to feel as though he was just as much a part of the group as any other student who was not born as he was.

This began a year of growth for me, one that I will always remember.  One day, during a professional observation, the students were taking part in an activity that required them, at first, to say the letters of the alphabet.  The exercise changed as I asked them to do this seemingly simple task under duress:  they were asked to lift a weight while doing it; they were asked to run in circles while doing it; they were asked to jump in place and, then, around the classroom while doing it.  The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that an actor must focus and avoid tension in order to stay “in a moment.”  Seth took part in this exercise, doing the things all of the other students did and laughing the entire time.  My principal, during our post-observation conference, said she had never seen another teacher get Seth involved as I had, that most teachers assumed an inability on his part to perform any task in their curriculum and an inability on their own parts to find a creative way to get him involved.  I was pleased and I felt I had done what was expected of me, both in terms of curriculum and in terms of Seth’s parents’ expectations.

This feeling was short-lived, however.   A lesson I had designed for a day in the following month was centered on the difference between character and caricature.  Hemingway refused to write “characters;” rather, he wrote “people,” noting that characters were actually caricature.  I felt that all the students could do this, although Seth was obviously at a disadvantage.  I brought into class a scene from “Rain Man;” near the film’s end, a moment crops up where Dustin Hoffman, whom we assume has no ability to truly understand his world due to his special brand of autism, leans forward and touches his forehead to Tom Cruise’s…there, in that moment, we lose the “character” and find the “person.”  We see the person, trapped like Rilke’s panther in bars of a physiology that would not allow him to speak in ways the rest of the world could understand, say to his brother in a one simple movement “I love you.” 

The class could not follow the difference.  My lesson was falling apart.  I modeled; they said they were lost.  I gave examples; they said they were lost.

And then I turned and saw Seth.  I asked him to stand.  He did so, not knowing what I was about to do…

Slowly, I bent my back into a question mark.  I tilted my head toward him.  I curled my right arm beneath my armpit. I turned my knees toward each other.  I walked, in his sliding gait, toward him…

And he smiled.  Seth knew exactly what I was doing.  He looked at me and I at him.  He said to me, quietly, “Mr. Schneider…” and laughed.  And then, in a gesture none of us expected, he smiled and sat down.   I sat beside him and, while looking at him, asked the class the difference between what I was doing and what an actor developing a person was doing.  They understood…and so did Seth.  He understood that I saw him, that I saw the boy who was inside, who walked the hallways with difficulty, who liked girls, who felt awkward in the class, who wanted to be seen for who he was, for how he was human just like they were…

Many would say that I used Seth, that I took advantage of his disadvantages to make my job easier.  There would be some truth to that, I suppose.  I did make my job easier.  Yet, there is also truth in this:  my job was to involve Seth in theatre.  The whole class – the curriculum even –  was, therefore, theatre.  Performance.  A reflection of life.  What I gave the students – and Seth – was a brief look at the life within another, a brief glimpse that, through an understanding of the outer life of a character, we can come to understand the struggles of their inner life.  Seth was not the sum total of his disabilities, but his inner life was definitely a product of how those things walked with him during the day.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from one of the students in that class who has become, of all things, a teacher.  She spoke of many things, but the odd thing was that she mentioned that day, that lesson, and her discomfort with my shoice of methods.  She also said that, now that she had become a teacher, she understood why I put him there, why I used him and not another example.  I wanted to explain, but could not.  I just wrote back that I was glad she remembered, nine years afterward, the experience of being in my class.  I was glad. 

I was glad because I knew, now, wherever he was – at his job, at a school, at home – Seth, too remembered. 

Teacher Story…ideas & strands

“…the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.”

                                                            –  John Dewey, in his Pedagogic Creed (1897)

Reflection on Our Need to Tell a Teacher Story

It’s odd, really, to tell a “teacher story.”  After all, how many times have we heard of an electrical engineer’s convention wherein the participants reel out their tales of suffering at the hands of a disobedient circuit?  Or a podiatrist’s conference that held its participants at bay with a day organized around telling fetid tales of podiatric horror and reward?  In fact, how many members of the myriad professions out there often find themselves asking their constituents to knit tapestries questioning their methods, affirming their practices and adapting their approaches?  Few to none.  Most, instead, go about their business without the possibility of sharing the nuances of their personal approaches to their crafts and, therefore, without the probability of growing as professionals.

 

            Perhaps, though…I am misreading the assignment…?

to my former neighbor’s pit bull

i wonder what would have happened that day

when i was thirteen

that evening i still see

wheezing past your porch trying desperately to trim down

and you clanging behind me

chain steel loop and porch floorboard in tow

growling and barking

your upper lip curled back so the teeth would cut clean

if i had simply stopped and not run

pulled my foot back

and drop-kicked your slobbering jowl across the road

and into another neighbor’s yard

i wonder if you would have run away

shrieking like a baby that’s been thumb-pricked

your sad howl drawing the sympathy

of your master the butcher

his brobdingagian beer-gut slopped lazily

over his unbelted blood-stained dickies

always smiling his brown gap-tooth smile

that may have bent downward into condemnation

of a horrific and beastly act

an unctuous middle-age hillbilly james dean

complete with rolled-up t-shirt sleeves

stuffed on one side with marlboros 

i wonder if he would have come after me

told my dad

and i can hear it too

in his long florida native drawl

heeeyyy oorht yeuwww got tuh

keeeeep yer bo’ off’n muh daawwwg

and my dad in his contrition

going home to tan my ass

for beating on a poor naïve mutt

like yourself 

but instead

he called me over afterward

and poured a rubbing alcohol niagara over my wounded hand

and told me you didn’t know any better

and that you wuz jest a dawg

and that i’uz wrong’n shouldn’a run near you

i still carry your mark on my finger

your angry yipping

(like the butcher)

long since buried

but still brararking in my mind’s ears 

i offer you now my other hand

even though you cannot take it

i promise i will not run this time

and your mouth will not meet the bottom of my foot 

i promise 

So…This Blog thang is FUN!

This is cool and all, and I see its purpose for us, but with all of this work…why would ANYONE with half a wit EVER have a MySpace page????  Good Lord, I think I added a half a dozen gray hairs just getting back and forth on this s          l              o           w site.