“Nobody ever taught me what a dangling modifier was”

“Nobody ever taught me what a dangling modifier was”

She took off points
for a dangling modifier?
A dangling modifier?
What does that even mean?

I scoff in pre-acceptance disdain:
Maybe I wanted my modifier to dangle…

then in insulted indignance:
And why is she commenting on my dangling modifier anyway?

And it continues. I cannot turn away;
just like that time I saw the neighborhood dog
on the mailman’s leg.
I imagine my face mirrors Fido’s:
intense focus and a dash of definance…
Rather than move on,
I inspect meticulously each evaluative mark;
I review each sentence in my composition;
I examine each dismissive abbreviation –
each “sp.”
each “cap.”
and each “awk.”

Red ink pirouettes circles of mockery
around the words I so deftly selected
from the drop-down menu that appeared,
magically, almost supernaturally or mysteriously
See Also: mystically; enchantingly
once I simultaneously pressed the shift and f7 buttons
to reveal the digital thesaurus.

Soon I see nothing else on the paper
but rings of fire,
red burning trails of what my teacher calls formative feedback.

Everything around me is now engulfed in red circles and squiggly underlines:
mailboxes, cars, the crosswalks;
no once-trusted place is safe from the gritty derision of my English teacher’s crimson sword!
Not my childhood treehouse, not the skate park, not even the diner…
Now I am blinded by fury,
and my fury is only outweighed
by my utter confusion.
And confusion turns to self-doubt
turns to incompetence
which all lead to impotence, I’m sure…

How come no one every taught me what a dangling modifier was?
I seek comfort and solace in the family I hold so dearly:

Mom says I should have proofread.
“Nothing ever worth reading is written once.”

Drying the dishes, my sister says:
“I remember learning about grammar – don’t you?”
Her freckled face squinched up emphatically.

From inside the fridge, Dad grabs the steak.
He walks past me, muttering, “dangling modifier…”
shaking his head and chuckling as he walks out to the grill.

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A Life Yet Undiscovered

A Life Yet Undiscovered

It’s finally fifth period:
study hall with him

In the sweet solemn whisper of a moment
Right before I see him
(but knowing he’s right around the corner)
I promise myself
I won’t look
I can’t smile

It is a tragic discomfort
Feeling like I want him to kiss me
and feeling like I want to puke

Feeling like no one else in the world exists
and like he’s distracted by so many other people
he can’t even see me

I feel like I have to pretend he doesn’t exist
while I attach his last name to mine
on the side of my math worksheet
in five different fonts
Do I like Mrs.?
Or will I prefer Ms.?

My cheeks warm and flush
as I mentally flip through the
imaginary photo album of
our life yet undiscovered
pictures of prom, college, our wedding, and everything else
all flutter by

It is a distinct shock to my system –
like being suddenly immersed in a bath of ice –
knives jabbing into me all over
as I see him walking towards me
smiling and
holding Jessica’s hand

my hand feels cold and desperate
I hold onto my binder
part shield, part life preserver
and remind myself
there is still so much time
before I can move on
to sixth period

A Mid-Morning Pastoral

A Mid-Morning Pastoral

Through the double-paned window,
I can see rolling fields,
an old oak tree with full canopy.
The bar connecting my desk surface to the chair
holds me in
as I watch the effects of a subtle breeze
lifting and foxtrotting
a discarded leaf.
Outside,
I know it’s warm and sweet
the kind of mid-morning in late May
when summer is softly peeking
from behind the last weeks of school,
and the dirt is loose and gravelly
just free from the mud.
Somewhere, a kid just like me
is scootering down his street,
similarly different homes lined up along an oak lined street
the shadows and highlights of the sun dappling the ground beneath him.
And somewhere else,
down a hidden dirt path,
past the underbrush of the woods,
right under the flowing branches of a weeping willow,
a kid sits next to his tackle box
mesmerized by the gentle tugging of his fishing line in the river…
And I’m certain that somewhere, there’s a group of kids
“NOT IT”ing just before erupting into a frenzied game of freezetag
and suddenly calling a truce
just long enough to buy rocket pops
after being called by the sweet tinkling tune of the ice cream truck.
It’s the kind of day perfect for
punishing me inside this detention room.

Long Hair is for Bieber Fans

Long Hair is for Bieber Fans

He stomps around in big ol’ boots
Calls ‘em shitkickers
His John Deere shirt is green
And he’s got a camouflage hat
with a ten-point buck on it
swears he’d only wear sumthin he could catch on his own

He wears Carhartt jeans
with oil grease stains on the legs
says they’re proof of hard work
He does work hard
to look like he’s not working hard

He’s got a buzzcut
cuz bangs are for sissies
plus, buzzcuts don’t get caught in a tractor
and long hair is for Bieber fans
and, honestly, guys like him
don’t care how they look.

Deeper

Deeper

Blue is not just
the color of my hair.
Blue isn’t a statement.
Blue happened to me;
I didn’t choose it.

I don’t wear black.
Black is my shield;
it protects me from whispered things
I don’t even know about.
Black with steel –
and lace –
is there really a difference between
a compressed bodice
and a bullet-proof vest?

I feel like I was born with this
lip ring.
And these eyes,
the beautiful brown eyes
from my grandmother
allow me to see
deeper –
more deeply
than you’ll ever look
at me.

The Burden of Responsibility

The Burden of Responsibility

I remember sitting in the driver’s seat
when I was 14.
Mom had asked me to start the car
that freezing morning in January,
and I felt like a racecar driver:
the engine rumbled to life,
and I felt so powerful –
like I somehow could make things happen.
I wanted to careen down the highway
at “a buck fifty” like my uncle always said
and listen to all my friends as we laughed
on our way across the state to the beach –
no worries at all.

Last week, I got my license:
“the only test I’ll ever study for.”
The day before me, Ben Waterson,
our class treasurer,
got his license
and a shiny, brand new casket
4 hours later.

These keys are heavy,
and I am some mad scientist bringing to life
something that maybe should stay dormant.
I hate that I can cause so many terrible things.
I feel the burden of responsibility,
like I want to just get home,
so I am no longer a danger –
a roaring box of fire.

Voices We Hear

School lockers

School lockers

Welcome to a creative writing blog about the issues and reactions to teaching and student-ing! This is the blog’s first post.

As an educator entering his ninth year, I have found myself with a host of stories about individuality as well as stories about the universality of life experience. About three or four years ago, I began reacting to the feelings I had, the words my students said, and the memories we all share about the experiences of navigating the uncertain halls of any given school day.

I like to write pieces that highlight the depth that adolescents have in a way that incorporates humor and taste. Reflecting on the various experiences I have had with young people, I find myself coming back to the ideas of the shared experience between teacher as human and student as human. I find that most of my memories of the teens I have taught involve me learning or changing my thinking, based on what they do, say, or write. It’s funny, you go into an experience thinking about all the major conflicts you may have – or even the major successes, but it’s in those minor moments, maybe the moments in between other moments, that show the most important thinking. Working with teens teaches me about them, but it also teaches me about myself – how I define self as an adult, and how I was when I was in their desks. Sometimes, I think we see in adolescents the worst parts of ourselves. For most people, the teen years were the worst, smelliest, most uncomfortable ones, and yet it is in those years we typically see the deepest yearning, the most heightened senses of our lives. I like to capture all of it in what I write.

I have written over fifty poems I included in the manuscript I continue to work on, and my goal is to post them regularly, one at a time, in this space. Many poems have been through multiple drafts, many have been written down only once before. Some will invariably have been cooking up in my head and maybe first see light in a new post.

Once those poems have been posted here, my goal is to continue writing poems in addition to personal narratives, anecdotes, and other media, as a means to continually connect with others about teen issues and honor the experience of not yet being an adult. When time and wit allows, I will do my best to explain where and how the poem originated, but for the most part, I’ll leave the analysis and noticing to the reader…because after all, shouldn’t poetry be more about the audience than the poet himself?

Eventually, don’t we all want to be published? My dream would be to have the collected voices in my poetry someday be available for purchase in a book store, but for right now, publishing to the web is scary enough. As for an audience, mine is as wide as we make it. I’d love to hear from other secondary educators with similar or opposing stories and viewpoints. Adding the voices of those featured in my poems – the teens of right this moment – would be valuable and rich for feedback. And even if you’re someone who simply likes poetry and remembers the odds and ends of adolescence, hearing your voice would equally be inspiring.

The title of the collection refers to the literal voices I have heard (and continue to listen to) in my hallway, but it also recognizes the distractions of growing up – imagine sitting in your English class while just outside the windowed door, you can hear passing students…

My poetry covers a wide spectrum of voices: male, female, educator, teen, omniscient and reflective; I also have written in various poetic forms and structures, pushing myself to experiment with enjambment, prescribed meter, rhyming, etc.; and I have also responded to and discovered a great deal of the issues, silly and devastating, trite and unique, that one experiences, backpack-clad, running to catch the bus or entering a classroom for the first time…and all the bits in between.

I’ll warn you here that apart from one or two failed attempts at blogs over a decade ago, I have a lot of experience to gain with blogging. I am not a career blogger, but over time, I hope my messages get clearer, and my blog becomes more and more readable.

So, as I continue this process, if you’re interested and you find yourself tired of scrolling through the same posts and updates you see every day, please read and enjoy the voices we remember, the voices we use, the voices we may want to forget, and the voices we hear.