Thursday, February 12, 2009

In My School

In my school

the boys slick

back their hair

with grease that

streaks down necks

on sweaty August days,

flash f-e-a-r

on every knuckle,

dots from pins

and blue-black ink;

Teacher sprays

the room with

blue Evening in Paris

against the heat

and stink of boys.

In my school

the girls go in twos,

hold hands, skip

down the path,

except on winter days,

when we never

feel the need

to go at all.

Those days,

we peel off

crusty mittens,

extra socks, wet scarves

that hiss and steam

on radiators blasting heat.

Janie’s tights are red

and mine are black,

and we learn

the words that we

must never say,

the vocabulary

of crime and punishment


In my school

we read in groups,

learn county seats,

sing patriotic songs,

chew pencils that

record our dreams

in speckled books

with sewn down pages,

tearfully recite

our tables, hoping for

another chance when

we forget our nines.

In my school

we line for sugar cubes,

pink saviors

Mr. Sabin sent too late

for poor Christine.

In spring,

the rest of us

skate red dog lines

on green tile floors,

wash dusty boards,

bang chalk clouds in the air,

chase tiny frogs

that jump from

scummy science jars.

At lunch, we munch

thick meat sandwiches,

crunchy pickles,

sticky cakes,

drink milk with

bendy straws;

at the end

of every month

we feast on

thick commodity bread,

big chunks of creamy cheese,

and soupy beans.

In my school

we are six grades

three rooms

three teachers --


and we never know,

we never know as kids

we’re not the world;

we never know that

there is any other way.

Thanks to bluesugarpoet for inspiring this poem with her "Your School vs. My School."


  1. This is beautiful. I've been a teacher for a long time and I think it's challenging to write poetry about school/teaching. Lovely.Thanks for visiting my blog - come back again!

  2. Wow, Karen! This is a powerful poem - so many images and ideas--I'm in a whirl, with thoughts and reflections - memories of my own. I might have to do one of these too. Would you mind if I take this as a prompt?
    The interesting thing about it is that it seems so timeless - you can't pinpoint an era or a generation. Mind you, do they still use chalk today? I don't know.
    Your work is incredible.


  3. Wonderful - and the last verse goes for all of us.

  4. This really is amazing. It brought back all kinds of childhood memories to read it, and all the thoughts and feelings that went with it. You're quite a weaver of image and feeling Karen my excellent poet friend.

  5. Karen, kudos to your vision, in the thick of the time, but I wonder if the kids now can get some of this? Not that it matters. Sometimes I get a little nervous when I go to the doctor who is young enough, me old enough, that he could be my son, and even worse...

    There are those do you remember when emails that go around and I am sometimes too old for the nostalgia...


  6. This is very good, Karen; you drew me into your world. I especially liked the image of those smelly boys!

  7. "chew pencils that
    record our dreams..."


    "we line for sugar cubes,
    pink saviors
    Mr. Sabin sent too late
    for poor Christine..."

    and for Nora - so cheerless a day

    How nimbly the memories scribe across the screen. Lovely - evocative and nostalgic. You have captured the essence of classrooms in our time, and have deftly created a snapshot of childhood for me. Thank you, my friend.

  8. Diane - Thanks for stopping by. RachelW has a fantastic poem about school called "Unraveling." I recommend you go over to the waxing moon and read it. She really captures a child's experience in school.

    Kat - I can't wait to read your version! And, no, I think chalk is mostly a thing of the past -- dry erase markers now.

    Dave - Thanks. I guess you're right!

    Cat - Praise from you is high, indeed. Thanks for the lovely comment from one of my must-read friends.

    Christopher - Yeah, it gets a little depressing when the doctors look like children -- when EVERYONE looks like chidren!

    Rachel - "Unraveled" still blows me away. Thank you.

    K. - I wonder if that lining up for sugar was the way it was done everywhere, or if it was only our experience here? I know you can see this poem, just a river apart...

  9. You brought back so many memories I could smell the lead pencils and the books. Feel the chalk in the back of my throat.

    Sugar cubes! We got those at the community center handed out by the Lion's Club after church one Sunday.

    Another excellent post!

  10. Karen, what a picture you have painted here! This was such a treat to read--the images that come effortlessly through (for the reader.) I love it!

  11. Karen - yes, and just a heartbeat away. <3

  12. Roberta - Christopher wondered if the young ones would "get" some of this, but even if they don't, I hope they get the feel for what it was like In My School -- and many of those of this era.

    My school was the community center for us -- school and church. That was it.

    Jennifer - One of the wonders of this shared experience is that we can see each other's worlds. Thanks for sharing mine.

    K. - :)

  13. WOW!!!! What a rockin' poem. I love it! Wow that was so great.

  14. BEAUTIFUL! You have so many awesome details here. I can smell the teacher's perfume and the stink of the boys. I love that. There really is a certain smell to classrooms, isn't there? And not always so pleasant.

    I'm not a kid, and some of the experiences are before my time (like three rooms), but I totally get it. I think there is a school experience that many people the lunches, banging the chalk cloud, etc. I think my daughter would relate, too. I do a lot of volunteering in the schools, and some things never change. Like stinky boys...ha! ha!

    You have so many wonderful images here. I love the hiss of the mittens and scarves, too. You should send this out! It is so beautiful. It's a wonderful poem that made me smile.

  15. So, so seamless and rich in detail, Karen. I could feel the chalkiness of that eraser cloud settle on my skin and the pressure to recite the right answer pushing on my chest. Just a beautiful and evocative poem.

    You conjured an entire universe in that three-room school. And made me want to go back to a place I'd never quite been. :)

  16. Christine - Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked it.

    Julie - Knowing that this could make you smile makes me happy. That's a wonderful compliment.
    You're right, there's something timeless about the school experience. For all we change the tools we use, the feeling is the same.

    Sarah - Thank you for your comments. I'm suffering a good bit of doubt about whether or not I have anything worth saying, and hearing that you are moved by this makes me think maybe there is a place for simple poems. You've given me a lift. Thank you.

    Thanks for your encouragement.

  17. Karen - I can't tell you not to doubt yourself because creative types always do, but nothing about your poems are simple. As if simplicity were something terrible anyway. I love the imagery you paint in just a few words. Precise. Succinct. Rich. All vision without the fluff. Your poetry is fantastic!

    (thanks for the shout out, btw ;))

  18. "dots from pins
    and blue-black ink;"

    my uncle has one of these on his arm - a self-made tattoo he did, bored, in school one day (badly - no telling what it was supposed to be).

    i love this one - you've brought us to class, sat us next to you - we can relate/respond to every stanza with the images/memories you evoke. and sometimes, i feel like i'm still coming to grips with the last few lines...that my world is not "the" world...funny how it takes leaving school to really apply all those lessons...

  19. other than i attended classes of single grades, this is very reminiscent of my school days, too

    thx karen...

  20. Karen, I haven't done my version yet, but there are a few things I'd like you to check out at Invisible Keepsakes.


  21. Jana - Thank you, and thanks for the idea. Your line about simplicty really struck me. Maybe it's not such a bad thing. Thoreau might have had something there. ;)

    Jaoquin - That's how all the boys I knew made their tatoos, too. I always thought of them as "jailhouse" tatoos, because many of those guys ended up there (sadly). I agree that it takes a while to learn we aren't "the" world, especially when we've been so insulated from other worlds. I've spent my life in schools, but I've always argued that school is not the world in microcosm.

    laughingwolf - I'm so glad this recalled those days for you. Hope they were good ones.

    Kat - I'm waiting for yours, and I'm headed over now!

  22. No doubting, really do have a gift. I always look forward to seeing what you have that's new for us. :)

  23. we never know as kids
    we’re not the world;
    we never know that
    there is any other way

    These lines break my heart, Karen, they are so true and so immensely sad... Something to always remember when we are with our small children.

    I love the whole poem, the atmosphere that you created here is extraordinary...

  24. Hi, Vicki - Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you liked it. My thoughts are still with you.

    Vesper - Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you liked the poem. It is true, isn't it, that when we're children we don't know there's anything outside of us. Again, sometimes I think it would be bliss to protect children from the knowledge of what is beyond...