Sunday, December 27, 2015

Poem: Ode to a Graduate Task Left Undone

Share the literacy story of one of your students,
asked the handout found in a dusted-off binder 
marked "Grad School Assignments"
My cohort had mapped out their own literacy journeys;
a charge that left its reflective mark, even ten years on.
Harold's Purple Crayon,
lyrics to a holiday song I insisted was my own,
my name etched into the wood of grandma's basement wall,
The Marvel universe's flawed, self-sacrificing heroines,
anything by Stephen King,
and then the start of my own bookmaking.

How did you learn to read,
I would ask my students, one by one, 
anticipating rich maps, much like my own.
I dunno. I just did, I guess.
Do you remember the very first book you read
over and over again?
Um, no.  Wait...no.
Did anyone read to you as a child?
Um, no.  Wait...no.
What do you write when it's not for school?
(silence)

Was I just strange to them,
this teacher asking questions about books and reading?
Was I unclear about the purpose so they wouldn't feel
their answers would be judged?
Were the questions wrong?
I went back to my notes on the book, Growing Up Literate
looking for ethnographic methodology
and found notes on what surprised me
about the rich literate lives of poor families from that study:

The letters to themselves and to one another,
love notes,
reminders, lists of things to do,
the everyday quiet ways they made meaning of the world-
ways that mattered when navigating the day to day
unnoticed, usually, like
Crayola homes surrounded by bright green living things
stick figures connecting in close proximity suggesting
a beautiful smallness of the world
everything ordinary a thing of intimacy
and comfort
-a children's code
we all once knew.

I couldn't put words to why (I still can't)
but I knew the task had to go undone
that's what happened, and now a decade later,


here's its poem.