I write this from my dining room table on the Monday of spring break. I can hear my husband typing away in the office. My daughter is working out an Adele song on the piano downstairs. I can hear rain–sorely needed here after our first wildfire of the season last weekend–rain tapping on the house. It’s late. I’m tired. Today I spent a few hours in a coffee shop reading and thinking and writing, hiked with a friend, read my book on the couch. Tomorrow the plan is pretty much the same.
The last few weeks have been days at school, evenings responding to student work, conscious efforts to sleep and yoga and hike in the spaces between everything else. “Everything else” included daily hours at the hospital and rehab center for almost three weeks after my mom broke her femur (!) at the end of February. I’ve barely checked Facebook or posted on Instagram. I dip into Twitter a couple of times a day to check the news, see what my teacher colleagues are up to across the country. I haven’t done a great job making dinner very often for my family.
It’s always been a challenge to manage the “extra” stuff on top of my full time teaching gig–like this blog. Like the other writing I have been working on. Like keeping in touch with teacher colleagues near and far. This “extra” stuff energizes me in my teaching work. It keeps me connected to the wider conversation going on about teaching reading and writing.
But it’s been two years in a row now that February has ushered in a period of unproductivity for me in all things “extra.”
Perhaps I’m slowly surfacing. Mom is home and doing really well. She’ll be able to drive again pretty soon and won’t need help with groceries and pharmacy runs. The calendar says it’s spring. The daffodils are up in our yard. There’s no snowstorm in the forecast like we had last year over spring break (but I do know of course that the front range of Colorado and snow do not for sure part ways until mid-May, so I’m ready for more of it if it comes).
I did write some poetry, which I’ve been meaning to post here for a few weeks. We’ve been lucky this year to have the Writers in the Schools program working with our seniors, a project supported by Colorado Humanities and funded by the National Endowment for Humanities. Monica Prince, poet extraordinaire, was one of the writers who worked with our students, and she got us going on negative capability poems, which talk about things without actually talking about them. She started us off with “This is not a poem about…” This turned out to be the perfect prompt to spill the thoughts that were swirling as I approached the year anniversary of losing my dad. After some revision based on feedback from my students and from Monica, I’ll share the poem here with you. Writing teachers need to write and share that writing with their students. Here at The Paper Graders, we want to share some of that writing with you too.
Poem Not to be Read Following the Year After You Leave
This is not a poem about January
and how the landscape is brown and dead
or how the trees have no leaves, just
stark branches, veins against the
too-frequently grey sky.
This is not a poem about the memories
that walk into my consciousness
Chicken saltimboca at Maggiano’s,
red sauce on your chin
and later, “I’m sorry I’m just not very good company anymore,”
as you shuffled along with your walker
outside of the Pepsi Center.
“Dad, I love just spending time with you.”
I did not know then that this was the last Italian meal with you,
the last Nuggets game with you.
This is not about the early February snow day we got–
just one week before.
This is not about sitting outside Jane’s math classroom,
waiting for a conference with her teacher–
a few days before.
This is not about being at your house for the Superbowl,
pizza, snacks, salad.
We encouraged you to cheer when the Broncos won–
twenty four hours before.
This is not about the last time I said goodbye,
not knowing the next time I would see you
would be in the ER
After Paul showed up at the door
to the yoga studio as I rolled up my mat–
“Sarah, your dad.”
After the frantic drive down US 36.
After the text from my brother to slow down–you
were already gone.
like that time I fell off my bike, hit my head on the flagstone sidewalk, and
didn’t wake up until I was already in your arms–
you carrying me home.
This is not a poem about your empty shoes,
the clutter on your dresser that we had to sort through,
your photos on the wall.
This is not about your ring, your watch–now mine,
your collection of lapel pins.
This is not a poem about your 15 years of
lesson plans in binders in your office,
the words you left behind on your computer
(now squirrelled away in the cloud in case I need them someday).
This is not about your boxes in the garage,
old audio reels, slide carousels,
golf trophies, your tackle box–
ready to go with hooks and sinkers and lures and flies–
your golf clubs, your walker, the box of medical supplies
that had just arrived and we had to send back.
This is not a poem about dreading the grey, cold
days of January and February or hoping the Broncos
never make the playoffs again.
This poem is about how this morning I thought
as I walked to school,
“one year ago today I had only one week left with you
and I didn’t even know.”