stepping back into fourth grade

James Crews’s new anthology has been my constant companion for the last several weeks. The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy (Storey Publishing, 2022) is a beautifully curated treasure and a welcome spiritual balm for these turbulent times.

Like his previous book, How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope (2021), this “perfect-in-the-hand” soul-nourishing collection contains 100+ poems by a diverse group of established as well as emerging poets. It’s such a pleasure to spend time with “old friends” Barbara Crooker, Andrea Potos, and Penny Harter, and to catch up with PNWers Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon, whose work I featured here awhile ago.

Current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo is included, as well as Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. And as before, Crews offers (for select poems) Reflective Pauses and Invitations for Writing and Reflection  – breathing room for readers to explore ideas, delve deeper, and absorb inspiration for journaling or even writing their own poems.

Today I’m happy to share one of my favorites from the book. Brad Aaron Modlin is new to me, and he does what good poets do: take us a little off center so we can consider ideas from a fresh perspective.


1959 Fourth Grade Classroom photo by Larry Syverson
by Brad Aaron Moldin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

~ from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2016)


I love all the quirky lessons Mrs. Nelson shared with her class. Often the most far reaching things can’t be found in textbooks. 

Ideally, all children should be reassured that they already have enough, and more importantly, are enough. 

“I am” just may be the most empowering belief any of us can own.

Ultimately, Modlin reminds us that we aren’t alone in feeling that we might have missed that all-important memo everyone else got. 

Hopefully with all the rich experiences we’ve had so far, we’ve come to realize that peeling potatoes can indeed be a form of prayer, and standing still to listen to the wind is an excellent practice – as is being kind especially when it is the most difficult.

What do you wish your teachers, parents, or mentors had taught you?


THE PATH TO KINDNESS: Poems of Connection and Joy
edited by James Crews
published by Storey Publishing, April 2022
Poetry Anthology, 224 pp.


The lovely and talented Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a lovely weekend!


*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

26 thoughts on “stepping back into fourth grade

  1. Jama, thank you. This poem about Fourth grade is one I will share with other educators. It’s beautiful and quirky and just right after this weird, long exhausting year.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this Friday poetry post. I went to Catholic school. My fourth grade teacher was Sister Dominic. I wish she and my other teachers had taught us to realize that kindness is our greatest gift to the world!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kindness is definitely a lesson everyone needs to learn regardless of age. I had some good teachers growing up, some that emulated kindness themselves. We learn best by example, I think . ..


  3. Hi Jama, I have this book. 🙂 I am. Just like “No” is a complete sentence. No explanation needed. I’m not sure what I wish my parents/teachers had taught me… I’ve always been the type person to go after knowledge/information on my own! I will add that our eldest son says he wishes he was bilingual—which he of course can be if he wants to be—he just wishes we’d insisted he learn a second language as a young child, because it would’ve been easier. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with your son — growing up with a second language seems a much more natural way to learn it. It becomes “second nature!” 🙂


  4. “standing still to listen to the wind” and rain, and warmth of sun ☀️ feeds us inside! Thanks for sharing this Kindness-seeking anthology Jama. And thoughts on what our mentors could have taught us… explore more, challenge oneself more, find out everything you can about something and then even more, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for introducing me to this new poet, Jama. I will be putting these books on my must read list. I was particularly taken by thinking of “how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer.” So true. And the importance of “I am.” Powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am now reading Crews’ “How to Love the World”, perhaps from your recommendation, Jama? I am loving it so am sure I’ll get this one, too. I don’t have good memories from my 4th grade teacher, admit I was a sneaky student because she didn’t notice anything we did, was always writing on the board things we had to copy. However, my mother was my teacher in grades 5 & 6 (small town) so we did a lot of lit, including poetry, & drawing & that was wonderful. Thanks for what seems to be a description of a wonderful teacher. Noticing the wind & peeling potatoes wondrous things to “know”, terrific. Thanks for all!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh this looks like a collection I need to read! And What You Missed that Day You Were Absent brought me right to Mrs Rasanen, my fourth grade teacher whom I remember with a smile (certainly my best year in elementary school.) She had a way of making everything interesting, everyone feeling like they could say, I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, I just ordered this book from my local indie just based on this poem. Thanks, Jama! I feel like “you are enough” is exactly the lesson I wish I had learned. And that grown-ups don’t know everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the How to Love the World anthology so *thank you* for putting this new anthology on my radar! James Crews is a wonderful poet and curator of anthologies.

    This was a wonderful poem (by a new-to-me poet) – one that invites us to reread, and to ask ourselves about life’s lessons – both those taught and those we wish had been.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing Moldin’s poem and Crews anthology, Jama.
    The one thing I wish I had realized and embraced (not sure if I was ever taught, but that doesn’t matter) is that “I am just right, right now”.
    (Taking “I am” to the next level.)
    I struggle with believing this
    But I’m getting there…
    Reading your posts, Jama, always inspires me. Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you — closely related to “I’m doing the best I can with what I have and what I know,” and, “I’m right where I should be at this point of my life.” 🙂


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