If some greedy god
stole you away from me; if
the moon and her sun stole
away into the night; if our
love was plucked like a pear
from its tree —
I would burn down every
door to find you again. I would
tear through every layer of
hell, screaming with my mouth
full of light, and I would unhinge you
from your darkness, from your
I would take you
back from the demons that had
clawed you so far into yourself
that you counted six feet
between your skin and your
bones. I would shred open my
so that you could see
what I hold inside of me;
to show you all the light
I had swallowed from your
Think of dictionaries.
Think of table tops — of cherry trees, elms, of pines
and oak — how once we may have touched them, run our hands over
their knots, written love into their bark like confessions.
There is the organic and then there are the sharp corners
where I grew up. The ninety degrees of Manhattan and the
way we are always expected to grow upward instead of
We take from the earth without
apologies, as if being human means owning — uprooting roots from
our home so that we can fall in love over countertop discussions, so that
you can ask me out for coffee, so that we can fall in love over and over again
in the park that man had dug out and built just for this purpose: so that
we could one day kiss underneath these strategically placed streetlights.
kiss, as the director
claps, whispers ‘end scene,’ and stops filming our
We forget that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We
forget that our life is only picking up and leaving things behind — spilling
milk as we mop it all up.
Our vocabulary falls over us and rewords itself,
our letters warping as we speak them — our syntax a taxing sin.
This is our humanity. We touch and hope we don’t set off
cataclysms. We catch fireflies and write about things that move us
instead of how we are trying to halt the earth’s rotation, put it at a
higher speed, make it suit us better.
We can never be happy with what we have. We can never be
just content with our April morning, sitting outside beneath the
shade of an oak tree, the sun lapping our cheekbones, a blue jay caught
in the wind. Aero – for flight. Plane — its wings caught
Richard SikenDriving, dogs barking, how you get used to it, how you make
the new street yours.
Trees outside the window and a big band sound that makes you feel like
a feeling that lasts for one song maybe,
the parentheses all clicking shut behind you.
The way we move through time and space, or only time.
The way it's night for many miles, and then suddenly
it's not, it's breakfast
and you're standing in the shower for over an hour,
holding the bar of soap up to the light.
I will keep watch. I will water the yard.
Knot the tie and go to work. Unknot the tie and go to sleep.
I sleep. I dream. I make up things
that I would never say. I say them very quietly.
The trees in wind, the streetlights on,
the click and flash of cigarettes
being smoked on the lawn, and just a little kiss before we say goodnight.
It spins like a wheel inside you: green yellow, green blue,
green beautiful green.
It's simple: it isn't over, it's just begun. It's green. It's still green.
A year ago: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Amiri Baraka
Two years ago: Holy Sonnet XIV, John Donne
Are the majority of kids there juniors and seniors?
not really, actually! it ranged from rising sophomores (if there were freshmen, i didnt know of any, but my suitemates were all a year younger than me) to people who had just finished their senior years. i spent the most time with rising juniors and seniors, though, and i was a rising junior then. i kind of had the impression most of my department was older than me though? but this is just creative writing, so i cant say for the rest of csssa.
Is there a gym at csssa because I really want to continue working out if I do get in
hey! as far as i can recall, there is not.
one super athletic guy in my department was on the swim team in his school and swam back and forth the pool basically every day though; my room overlooked the swimming pool beside chouinard and he like. did push ups between laps. if you have your own hand weights or whatever little portable equipment you use to work out, you can bring those for sure. or do exercises for those four weeks that dont require a gym? ;;
While in graduate school at the University of Houston, I supplemented my income by working as a writer in residence for Writers in the Schools (WITS). I was with WITS for three years, during which I visited third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, and worked with groups of students visiting the Menil museum of art, the Houston Historical Society, and the Houston Arboretum.
When first hired by WITS, I expected that working to explain some of my favorite poems to fourth graders would result in me becoming a better teacher of poetry. What I wasn’t expecting was that (thanks to having my brain blown apart on a weekly basis as I browsed my students’ folders of barely legible poems) I would become a better poet.
Here are some lines written by students in grades 3rd-6th:
“The life of my heart is crimson.”
[Writing about a family member’s recent death:]
“My brother went down/ to the river
and put dirt on.”
“Peace be a song,
silver pool of sadness”
“Away went a dull winter wind
that rocked harshly, and bent you said,
[Writing about a terminal illness:]
“I am feeling burdened
and I taste milk……
I mumble, ‘Please,
please run away.’
But it lives where I live.”
“The owls of midnight hoot like me
shutting the door to nothing.”
[Writing about life as a movie:]
“The choir enters, and the director screams
‘Sing with more terror!!!’”
“I have provisions. Binary muffins.
It’s an in/out/in/out kind of universe.
We cannot help you,
this is a universe factory.
A sound of rolling symbols.
Disappearing rocks, screams of lizards.
Sanity must prevail. Save vs. Do Not.”
“I, the star god,
take bones from the
underworlds of past times
to create mankind.”
These young writers are addressing subjects that still obsess poets fifty years older: sadness, death, love, responsibility, aging, family, loneliness, and refuge…and they are addressing these subjects in language that is new, and thus has the power to emotionally effect a well-seasoned (/jaded) reader. The average fourth grader is able to do this because she hasn’t been alive long enough to know how to do it (and by “it” I mean talk about the world) any other way.
Story time: When I was a child I believed that one day I might be allowed to cross into an alternate dimension by walking through a quilt hanging on my living room wall. As I got older I stopped believing that this was a possibility—not because I grew to believe that the universe was not an extremely strange place where incomprehensible things could happen on a daily basis, but because I passed year after year after year not being able to enter the spirit realm through a wallhanging.
Anecdote that I hope you’ll find relevant: When Jean Piaget began studying the intellectual processes of children, he was not doing so because he had any special interest in children. Piaget was interested, rather, in the intellectual processes of (adult) humans and was seeking a control group. [His first thought was that the best control group would be comprised of martians but, as he did not have access to martians, he decided to use children since children possessed what is farthest from human consciousness.]
So let’s look at what happens to our young writers as they age [I took these lines from poems written by middle-school/ high school students (Italics, mine)]:
Snacking on this and that
my friends and I keep the party going
even when it is over”
“Whispers of a
secret crush being unraveled”
“I’m trapped in this hole that
I can’t break through”
“Barack Obama in the White House.
I can feel the inspiration
Can you feel it?”
“Now I feel secure with my head held high.
Sad times. By middle school/high school, the average student has learned how normal people talk. The resulting language is underwhelming and predictable—the safe regurgitations of a thoroughly socialized consciousness.
While the average older student’s poems are heavy with allegiance to a limited view of reality, the average younger writer’s vision of the world is nimble and surprising—bazaar, yet true.
Last year I spent every Saturday tutoring an extremely undersocialized kid in vocab. When I taught her the word blandishments (“to flatter, coax, sweet-talk, appeal to”) she wrote this sentence: “The blandishments of the sugar flowers made the cake so much more inviting.”
The sentence is interesting because the student understood that a blandishment is something that attracts favorable attention without fully realizing that people almost always use the word to refer to a human action.
The poet’s job is to forget how people do it.
- Absent-minded - Preoccupied to the extent of being unaware of one’s immediate surroundings. Abstracted, daydreaming, inattentive, oblivious, forgetful.
- Abusive - Characterized by improper infliction of physical or psychological maltreatment towards another.
- Addict - One who is addicted to a compulsive activity. Examples: gambling, drugs, sex.
- Aimless - Devoid of direction or purpose.
- Alcoholic - A person who drinks alcoholic substances habitually and to excess.
- Anxious - Full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune; greatly worried; solicitous.
- Arrogant - Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance. Inclined to social exclusiveness and who rebuff the advances of people considered inferior. Snobbish.
- Audacious - Recklessly bold in defiance of convention, propriety, law, or the like; insolent; braze, disobedient.
- Bad Habit - A revolting personal habit. Examples: picks nose, spits tobacco, drools, bad body odour.
- Bigmouth - A loud-mouthed or gossipy person.
- Bigot - One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
- Blunt - Characterized by directness in manner or speech; without subtlety or evasion. Frank, callous, insensitive, brusque.
- Bold - In a bad sense, too forward; taking undue liberties; over assuming or confident; lacking proper modesty or restraint; rude; impudent. Abrupt, brazen, cheeky, brassy, audacious.
- Callous - They are hardened to emotions, rarely showing any form of it in expression. Unfeeling. Cold.
- Childish - Marked by or indicating a lack of maturity; puerile.
- Complex - An exaggerated or obsessive concern or fear. (List specific complex.)
- Cruel - Mean to anyone or anything, without care or regard to consequences and feelings.
- Cursed - A person who has befallen a prayer for evil or misfortune, placed under a spell, or borne into an evil circumstance, and suffers for it. Damned.
- Dependent - Unable to exist, sustain oneself, or act appropriately or normally without the assistance or direction of another.
- Deranged - Mentally decayed. Insane. Crazy. Mad. Psychotic.
When I was a kid
I used to think that pork chops and karate chops
were the same thing
I thought they were both pork chops
and because my grandmother thought it was cute
and because they were my favourite
she let me keep doing it
not really a big deal
before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees
I fell out of a tree
and bruised the right side of my body
I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it
because I was afraid I’d get in trouble
for playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been
a few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise
and I got sent to the principal’s office
from there I was sent to another small room
with a really nice lady
who asked me all kinds of questions
about my life at home
I saw no reason to lie
as far as I was concerned
life was pretty good
I told her “whenever I’m sad
my grandmother gives me karate chops”
this led to a full scale investigation
and I was removed from the house for three days
until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises
news of this silly little story quickly spread through the school
and I earned my first nickname
to this day
I hate pork chops
I’m not the only kid
who grew up this way
surrounded by people who used to say
that rhyme about sticks and stones
as if broken bones
hurt more than the names we got called
and we got called them all
so we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun
was something they built for us
in their tool shed
so broken heart strings bled the blues
as we tried to empty ourselves
so we would feel nothing
don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone
that an ingrown life
is something surgeons can cut away
that there’s no way for it to metastasize
she was eight years old
our first day of grade three
when she got called ugly
we both got moved to the back of the class
so we would stop get bombarded by spit balls
but the school halls were a battleground
where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day
we used to stay inside for recess
because outside was worse
outside we’d have to rehearse running away
or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there
in grade five they taped a sign to her desk
that read beware of dog
to this day
despite a loving husband
she doesn’t think she’s beautiful
because of a birthmark
that takes up a little less than half of her face
kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer
that someone tried to erase
but couldn’t quite get the job done
and they’ll never understand
that she’s raising two kids
whose definition of beauty
begins with the word mom
because they see her heart
before they see her skin
that she’s only ever always been amazing
was a broken branch
grafted onto a different family tree
but not because his parents opted for a different destiny
he was three when he became a mixed drink
of one part left alone
and two parts tragedy
started therapy in 8th grade
had a personality made up of tests and pills
lived like the uphills were mountains
and the downhills were cliffs
four fifths suicidal
a tidal wave of anti depressants
and an adolescence of being called popper
one part because of the pills
and ninety nine parts because of the cruelty
he tried to kill himself in grade ten
when a kid who still had his mom and dad
had the audacity to tell him “get over it” as if depression
is something that can be remedied
by any of the contents found in a first aid kit
to this day
he is a stick on TNT lit from both ends
could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends
in the moments before it’s about to fall
and despite an army of friends
who all call him an inspiration
he remains a conversation piece between people
who can’t understand
sometimes becoming drug free
has less to do with addiction
and more to do with sanity
we weren’t the only kids who grew up this way
to this day
kids are still being called names
the classics were
seems like each school has an arsenal of names
getting updated every year
and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?
are they just the background noise
of a soundtrack stuck on repeat
when people say things like
kids can be cruel?
every school was a big top circus tent
and the pecking order went
from acrobats to lion tamers
from clowns to carnies
all of these were miles ahead of who we were
we were freaks
lobster claw boys and bearded ladies
juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire spin the bottle
trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal
but at night
while the others slept
we kept walking the tightrope
it was practice
some of us fell
but I want to tell them
that all of this shit
is just debris
leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
we used to be
and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer
because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit
you built a cast around your broken heart
and signed it yourself
you signed it
“they were wrong”
because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a click
maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything
maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth
to show and tell but never told
because how can you hold your ground
if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it
you have to believe that they were wrong
they have to be wrong
why else would we still be here?
we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog
because we see ourselves in them
we stem from a root planted in the belief
that we are not what we were called we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway
and if in some way we are
we only got out to walk and get gas
we are graduating members from the class of
fuck off we made it
not the faded echoes of voices crying out
names will never hurt me
but our lives will only ever always
continue to be
a balancing act
that has less to do with pain
and more to do with beauty.