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.

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1959 Fourth Grade Classroom photo by Larry Syverson
WHAT YOU MISSED THAT DAY YOU WERE ABSENT FROM FOURTH GRADE
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)

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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?

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

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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!

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