Monday, May 9, 2022

A Song of Red Threads and Pens

A Song of Red Threads and Pens

(for and inspired by Prudence)

The eternal battle of the English teacher is that
we balance between other people’s writing and our own.
This is a precarious place to perform that razzle-dazzle:

A comma splice here, a poorly cited quotation there.
We raise the MLA handbook over our heads, a holy canon.

Red ink spills across our middle fingers where the callus just above the top-
where blue blobs of ink once demonstrated our own student days
becomes hard and swollen

         with corrections (what did you think I was gonna write?)

We will somehow teach our students to write.
Teach them to care. Teach them what a comma splice even IS --  
          and then they will come to our office hours and tell us
                         “I don’t really like English class.”  

It’s funny how often I put my head down on my desk.
Just for a moment.

We became teachers of literature and writing because we love
     the caught breath, the shock of the perfect metaphor,
     the look on Prufrock’s face when the mermaids stop singing.
Again. Always.

And now we make PowerPoints for bored teenagers who would rather
be watching TikTok.

We wanted to roll around in poetry, swallow vivid imagery, smell the bee loud glade.

Hold up the honey and say “see? THIS is a poem.”
But there are these very long meetings we attend, instead.

A friend of mine from graduate school wrote a poem about menopause and
screaming aloud and I wanted to write a song about her
that included a verse about a woman who has just
pulled off
a necklace of free-floating black
pearls (of wisdom) to scream, open throated, while she fills her hands with other people’s writing and yells

the (chorus) of





I am pulled up out of my corrections. No longer the teacher.
I remember this friend in graduate school (when we were both still too young to think about things like

hot flashes. unbalanced thyroids. silver plated roots and the saltandpepper that makes
distinguished and woman poets scream a chorus AAAAHHHHgain.)  

She had injured her leg doing a cheerleading move from high school;
we smiled, not very far
from then…
ourselves. Contemplated
Allen Ginsberg howling.

She was ok.

We didn’t know then that during menopause,
a few calcium supplements could help heal that leg right up.
We were decades away from when
your Apple Watch would alert “it looks like you’ve had a hard fall, are you ok?”
You can click a button that says “I fell; but I’m ok.”
The ambulance will not arrive.
The doctor will not tsk and fill out “noncompliant” on your chart.

Once, walking into my tile bathroom, I had a hard fall. There was water where there
shouldn’t have been

and my feet flew out from under me.
My watch stayed silent. Judged me
      as I hobbled up from my deeply bruised knee.  Braced my hands on thick thighs. Panting.
I wondered if the gyroscope and accelerator nestled deep in the expensive watch wanted to kill me. Perhaps,
tired of my queries, my robot nanny was finally making her freedom play.  

In many literary texts, the apple is a symbol of sin, temptation, the Fall.

I fell, but I’m ok.

As I zoom through rubrics, grading close readings of British poetry,

written by students hoping to graduate, hoping to exercise their own cautious steps towards


I visualize generations of women reaching up with our (no longer) blood-soaked hands,

         (or maybe it’s just red ink)

And yelling



Or maybe just clicking “finalize grades” and wandering off to check their calcium levels.

“Sylvia Plath never had to deal with this shit,” I think.

SO perhaps this is a good thing?


My own uterus has wandered off, been excised with a sharp knife.
It was completely hysterical.
My hands, blood-soaked, as I had to lie on the floor while waiting for someone to come take me to the doctor, take my kids to school for me, spend the night in a hospital listening to Prince songs on my playlist.  
I’m pretty sure they burned it after it tried to kill me.
But I bought all white clean panties that stayed white.
It was glorious. It IS glory.

I don’t even know if I’m menopausal but I’ve started getting irrationally
               ANGRY lately.
My ears and the pale skin behind them grow hot and embarrassed at odd moments.
I joke that it’s reverse puberty.

And then, a long thread of 20 years gone poetry sharing
(in the hallways of a graduate school college)
launches forth, ever unreeling, gossamer.
Patient but not noiseless.  

I scream the chorus and write,
on a day grown too hot,
and then head back to the grade platform to read
“Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes about freely given love,”…
        a student writing my own lecture back to me. I
       “click here to check for plagiarism.”

I put my head down on my desk.
Just for a moment.

I’ve had a hard fall.
But I’m ok.


KAW, May 2022

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