Life. Lesson. Unplanned.

 

I read “In a Station of the Metro”;

later, I wrote a 14-word poem.

“In a Station of the Metro,” Ezra Pound wrote a poem that consisted of two lines and fourteen carefully selected words.  In them, he presented two images.  The first and obvious one is the people waiting for a train while standing on asphalt.  However, from a distance, the people, in all of their different colors, could appear to be “petals on a wet, black bough.”  The second image conjures up a rainy day when images may be blurred by so much water. It not much different than the one I experienced today (5/18/2018).  The 18th of the month is usually a special day for me and husband.  We were married on the 18th of December in 2010.  We try to make each 18th of the month special in an ordinary way.  Today, instead of rushing out the door, I sat with him, drank coffee, and shared an inspirational video I’d found.  This video voice, Alan Watts, said something very inspiring and convicting simultaneously:  “A completely predictable future is already the past; life needs surprises.”  My life definitely needed one.  The only surprise that I had so far was that a friend of mine was to be buried today.  Although I knew the day and time funeral, I was surprised, shocked (and motivated to make some changes) by her passing this week.  That surprise was out of my control.

I had today planned yesterday.  I’m a teacher; that’s what teachers do.  So, when I walked in the door of my classroom Friday morning, I already had the quiz I wrote and printed on my desk.  I knew about the time most students would complete the quiz so I had another ” learning activity” on my desk.  The textbook I use for the first class was already sitting on the podium and opened to the page I had planned to read with students.  However, while the students were taking the quiz, I decided to explore some other pages.  I found T. S. Eliot and I read the “About the Author” section to myself.  Then, I moved on and read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  In certain places, I grinned, chuckled, and mouthed the words so I wouldn’t disturb the students.  I enjoyed that so I went searching for something more.  Next stop was Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)–three poet biographies on two page.  I was so inspired after reading their backgrounds, I read their poems.  When I came to “In a Station of the Metro,”  I was so moved by the idea that a piece can be short and powerful.  No more excuses!  Besides, my life needed a surprise.  I wrote my own poem in the style employed by Pound.

Yes, I surprised myself.  I’m often inspired by the work of other writers, but I rarely do I do anything about it.  Today I did!  I analyzed my poem over and over.  In it, I saw two important images of my life:  teacher and student.  As student, I studied Pound’s technique and tried to apply what I learned.  As teacher, I’m prepared teach a lesson on how Pound conveyed so much meaning with such brevity.  I didn’t plan on doing either one.

Remove the Mask!

Image result for not copyrighted american flag clip art

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

By now, you may have heard of Colin Kaepernick.  He is the American football player who has protested against police brutality and injustice by kneeling on the football field while the American flag waved and the anthem played.  Reactions to his posture have drawn commentary from supporters and detractors.  Supporters have been impressed by Kaepernick’s willingness to use his peaceful protest to shine a spotlight on multiple police shootings of unarmed people of color with impunity.  However, Kaepernick’s detractors have not been impressed and have argued that he is disrespectful to the military and the entire country by protesting during inappropriate times, at NFL football games.  Surely, protests are considered inconvenient, inappropriate, and inconsiderate to entities, institutions, or persons being challenged.  That’s expected.

While this issue played out, I taught high school students American literature.  I haven’t spoken to them about Colin Kaepernick except through the actions of Arthur Miller and his McCarthyism protest.  Yet, I’ve watched and listened to people on television, at church, and in restaurants.  I’ve read articles and social media posts.  Much of it was disheartening.  The President of the United States called his own citizens “sons of bitches.”   That hit me hard and has stuck with me.  To imagine that in a few years that someone. anyone would call my students such despicable names . . . that’s difficult.

Recently, I read Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.”  It was published in 1895, a year before the Supreme Court upheld racial discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson (“separate but equal” public facilities).  In this divisive climate, America wants to put on the masks of unity:  the flag and the anthem.   However, this nation was not built on unity.  Enslaved citizens have worked and died.  Civil rights leaders have marched and died.  Soldiers have fought and died.  NFL players have entertained the nation.  However, when one of them, an American citizen, chose to put an issue on the table to be addressed, he was shut down by people waving the United States flag as a mask and silenced by the national anthem.  That’s unfortunate.

Dunbar’s poem is over a century old.  I can’t help but reread his poem with a desire to revise it just a little to address how I’ve felt about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest.  So, with much despair, here is my humble revision of Dunbar’s poignant work.

We've removed the mask that grinned and lied,

It hid our cheeks and shaded our eyes--

We've paid our debt to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we've smiled,

And mouth with myriad subtitles.
By now America should be wise,

We've counted our tears, we've yelled and cried;

Not afraid to let you see all the while

          We've removed the mask.
No more smiles, O Father, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise

We've sung the anthem, but the clay is still vile

Beneath Colin's knees, and still long the mile

Let not the American flag cover your eyes

         Remove the mask!

Unfortunately, my revision isn’t much different than Dunbar’s original poem.  And I am sad about that.  America looks really ugly right now.   However, waving the flag higher and singing the anthem louder won’t make us look better.  Remove the mask.  Have the difficult conversations.  That’s all we ask.

 

 

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Dunbar, Paul L.  “We Wear the Mask.” National Humanities Center, Paul Laurence Dun. National Humanities Center, nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai2/identity/text3/dunbar.pdf.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1850