A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert

Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
Jack Gilbert

There was no water at my grandfather’s
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people’s house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor’s cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.

A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert

Today’s poem: “Business” by Naomi Shihab Nye

I used this poem in conjunction with The Kite Runner, but I could see it used for any text that touches on the topic of refugees.

Naomi Shihab Nye

“Syrian refugees go about their business in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan…”

Ropes on poles, jeans & shirts flapping in wind.
He sits on a giant bag of rice, head in hands.
Too much or too little, rips & bursts & furrows.
Something seared in a pan.
If you knew a mother, any mother, you would care
for mothers, yes? No.
What it is to be lonesome for stacked papers
on a desk, under glass globe,
brass vase with standing pencils,
new orders.
How quickly urgencies of doing disappear.
And where is the child from the next apartment,
whose crying kept him awake
these last terrible months?
Where do you file this unknowing?

Today’s poem: “Business” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Emily Dickinson: A Light Exists in Spring

Emily Dickinson

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human naturefeels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.


Emily Dickinson: A Light Exists in Spring

A Poem for March: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –

Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-7-58-09-amPhoto taken at Emily Dickinson’s gravesite in July 2016.

A Poem for March: Emily Dickinson

To Pair with Hamlet: Maxine Kumin’s “The Excrement Poem”

This week I’ve been finishing up teaching Hamlet to my seniors, and when he spoke to Claudius in IV.iii, he says Polonius is at supper: “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.”

This prompted a conversation about the circle of life (cue The Lion King singing/humming by students) and also about how in the end, we’re all the same, just fodder for worms. Over the summer, I stumbled across a poem by Maxine Kumin called “The Excrement Poem” and I used it in class after we finished reading IV.iii.  It ponders how death (or manure) can prompt life, and has strong, vivid images of the speaker mucking out the stalls on her farm.

Here it is for your reading/teaching pleasure. Consider using it with Hamlet the next time you teach it.

The Excrement Poem

Maxine Kumin

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from

the least cast of worm to what must have been

in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor

of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.

I think these things each morning with shovel

and rake, drawing the risen brown buns

toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled

in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed

to take a serviceable form, as putty does,

so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,

I think of the angle of repose the manure

pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick

the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpour.

I think of what drops from us and must then

be moved to make way for the next and next.

However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile

the great formal oceans with what leaks down,

trundling off today’s last barrow-full,

I honor shit for saying: We go on.


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

To Pair with Hamlet: Maxine Kumin’s “The Excrement Poem”

English Class, a poem by Robin Chapman

English Class
Robin Chapman

Twelfth grade reading lists stretched out
as endless as the sentences we diagrammed,
as orderly as the outlines for our senior essays—
“Humanism in England in the Fourteenth Century”
I think I wrote about, cobbling facts together
about Erasmus and the Church, forgetting
those were plague years, and Henry David
Thoreau’s pithy quotes, marching to a different
drummer, hooked me for a solitary ramble
of Walden, not knowing he’d dined every night
with Emerson and Alcott; and our teacher
always turned to us with hope, searching
for some sign that we’d found a spark,
an engaged liveliness, in all those endless
marching words—her eyes lit up, her thin hair
frizzed, her faith in us fixed, misplaced,
stirring fugitive regret in our adolescent gaze,
preoccupied with who to ask to the Swankette Ball
and who to sit with at the Friday football game
(whom, she’d certainly have made us say).

Amherst Books in Amherst,  MA

English Class, a poem by Robin Chapman

Poem: Mirror in February by Thomas Kinsella

Mirror in February
Thomas Kinsella

The day dawns, with scent of must and rain,
Of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed — my brain
Idling on some compulsive fantasy —
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
Riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
A dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
And little more; for they are not made whole
That reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the wakening trees,
Hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
Suffering their brute necessities;
And how should the flesh not quail, that span for span
Is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
Not young, and not renewable, but man.


Poem: Mirror in February by Thomas Kinsella