Friday, April 27, 2018
It was a hard facade to maintain, especially when it came to math; how could I possibly work in base 2 or 5 if I had no systemic understanding of base 10? Luckily, I was told by the authorities that it didn't matter: I was a poet, not a mathematician. But the striver in me knew that in order to be fine, better than fine, perfectly fine, I ought to be able to calculate in base 5.
But what if I had had Imperfect? This anthology of poems about mistakes for middle schoolers, collected and edited by my friend Tabatha Yeatts, might have relieved me. Instead of walking around cracked and "patched together unattractively with metal staples," I might have discovered kintsugi. I might have found opportunities to acknowledge and mend my breaks beautifully. You'd see my "precious scars" made of liquid silver, my pottery bowl full instead of leaking, leaking all the time.
Which poems might have spoken to me? Surely the opening poem by Ruth Hersey, "Syllabus for Eighth Grade," would have let me know that falling off your chair was to be expected, that it would be normal to
some days, all before lunch.
I would have looked for tissues on the teacher's desk, and if there were none, perhaps I would have realized that something was wrong.
I might have learned that silliness, that "sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life," can helpfully include laughing, especially at yourself. "Make a Mistake, For Goodness' Sake" by Charles Ghigna might have helped there, full of exhortations to be "wild and woolly...honest and fair," to
Just be yourself. Take care of your health
And don't listen to people like me.
And Margarita Engle would have helped me understand a little earlier in life that "since I'm smart" and brave enough to "ride a crowded bus all the way to downtown Havana," it doesn't mean I have any wisdom. Better to let Perro the dog
...eat simple dishes
like boiled rice
with raw crickets
And finally, perhaps having the anthology Imperfect would have demonstrated that we don't lose anything in making a sincere apology for our mistakes. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes knows it:
between me and you
Humility heals whether the door opens or not. I'm grateful to Tabatha for collecting the work of dear friends like Linda Mitchell (whose diamante sinuously converts "Mistake" into opportunity) and Catherine Flynn (whose "The Laws of Motion" captures perfectly he way middle school society works) and many others. I'm enjoying returning to classic poets like Amy Lowell and Carl Sandburg.
I close, glorying in imperfection, with a familiar, mysterious favorite of mine, by Antonio Machado, which reveals how not-quite-certain I am that it's really okay to be broken-and-repaired:
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt---marvelous error!---
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
I guess that's because, as Ruth Hersey concludes,
nobody has ever mastered
the art of being thirteen
going on fourteen.
Or any other age, really.
We're all just figuring it out as we go along.
The round-up today is with Irene at Live Your Poem, where you can catch up with her ekphrastic project (ugly word for a beautiful thing) and with the Progressive Poem. Also, thanks for checking out the progress of my 2nd-graders' own progressive poem in the previous posts. We're flagging a little in the home stretch and would love to have your encouraging comments!