I've been on a family vacation, so I don't have any deep thoughts on education this week. Instead, I am reminded of some childhood experiences that may have shaped my perspective as a teacher and person. Here's one.
For some reason, I distinctly remember
one particular hill in the small town
I grew up in. I walked over it each day,
after school, to pick up the papers I delivered
to houses on one side of the hill before returning
to the side where I lived and attended school.
That was the side with the university
and the new theater. The side where
the interstate passed in the distance,
the sounds of cars. On the other side
was the grimy town, older houses,
older trees. To the west, the rich,
to the east, the poor. And as
I walked along the sidewalk
of the street bisecting the hill like a slice
from the side of a whale, I could look
across at the rocks weathering
from the side of the hill.
They were gray and looked solid.
Moss grew in their crevices.
They looked cold but secure, tolerant,
safe. They connected the town’s
history and its future like a cemetery
without tombstones, where only
the truth lay. The truth of lost
perspective in need of restitution.
At least, that’s how it felt
each day, to my adolescent mind,
crossing over that hill and back.
It didn’t matter which way I was going.
This poem is written about a small town in rural Kentucky where I attended the laboratory school of a regional university in the mid-70's. I delivered papers on all sides of this hill, and I learned a lot from each community. Some more positive than others.
I try to remember these experiences, as a teacher.
Here're two more poems to give you a hint as to which routes I preferred.
The reason I still like green apples,
though I really prefer red delicious,
is that my children like them,
and they remind me of what it felt like
to sit in the branches of the apple tree
on my paper route, in the alley
between streets, beside the abandoned
garage rusting back into rustic
hillsides behind these dilapidated
houses of this poor section of town,
inhabited by the people who treated
me with kindness for delivering the news,
who inspired me to place the paper
behind screen doors or on doorsteps
rather than flinging them into the yard,
who reminded me to appreciate,
even at that age, the smell of fall leaves,
the feel of bark on bare feet, the view
from branches no matter what lies
over the hill, the taste of sour apples.
$3.80 in Change
think of the mechanism
of a gumball machine
how a coin tumbles
into dropping the gumball
how if frozen somehow
the coin might bounce
and you wouldn’t even know it
and just walk away
how if you came along
later you might still
find the dimes
how if you trick the phone
into thinking its been hung up
the call it might yet drop
more dimes into the coin return
I used to stop
at every phone booth
on my paper route
on frozen days remove
one glove fingers taped
against the cold
protection from frostbite
as I collected the 90 cents
it cost each week
to have me deliver
it except on Sunday
in our small college
town route winding
through rich and poor
districts downtown streets
trailer parks if I was lucky
on a particularly cold
day I could find
as much money in the phones
as I could make that day
from my labors
and it always struck
me as kismet
how the rich tipped less
but their phones gave more
($3.80 In Change was published in the Fall/Winter 2005 issue of Concho River Review)