The very young utter dharma by accident, pointing us to the special in the ordinary—a box of cookies, the palm of the hand, footprints going here and there. All we need to frame this profusion into poetry is ears.
Your hand is a pocket
for my kisses
—David Richter, Age 5
Which way are you going?
Outside the window
Little dancing footprints
My heart is doing treesongs
—Caitlin O’Donnell, Age 3
The Big Box of Cookies
There are pink ones,
skin colored ones
and lemon flavored ones
and they are all delicious
—Robert Steel, Age 5
Did you know that things that don’t exist like us cry?
Trees and bushes cry.
Even rose bushes with thorns cry.
Everything in the world cries.
—Elias Alexander, Age 3
Why do I teach poetry? I don’t know. Most of the time I don’t. I don’t want to deal with thirty kids who are noisy and rude and won’t be quiet. I don’t want to deal with my own stage fright. I don’t want to be the center of attention as a teacher. So why do I do it? That’s almost like asking why I practice Zen. I’m stumped.
The simplest answer is that I like to write, I like words on the page, dancing beneath my fingers. I want to pass on an appreciation for writing, for playing with words. I have full confidence in every single child that I work with. I know that they have feelings and ideas, and I know that they can express them through poetry. I want them to know it’s easy.
I come into the classroom not necessarily to teach, but to open. I remember a fifth grade class in which we wrote about a relative. One boy wrote about his grandmother who had died, and when he read his poem he started crying. The class was silent, but there was respect in that room—for the poem, for the student, for tears. Maybe all I want to pass on, whether in terms of poetry or dharma, is that it’s possible to open to ourselves and to each other.
I selected the following poems for Inquiring Mind’s readers because I personally liked them. I like the earthquakes and waterfalls, and the flowers bringing back memories. I like the man in the library wishing for a break from work. I like the bitter yearning of the woman with an umbrella. I like the appearance and disappearance of the cat. I like the thought of there being something wild in my own Amazon heat. I have felt all these things in my life, and love that kids are able to tap into all of it and express it so well.
Judyth Gong is a California Poet in the Schools and practices Zen with the Ring of Bone Zendo.
The Flower Shop
In the flower shop
all of the flowers
except one special flower
like the one in my grandmother’s
front yard the day she passed
away . . .
—Khalilah Rasheed, 5th Grade
it is midday
the river is green
everything is fresh
but in the depth of the Amazon
it is very very
—Arzhang Zereshki, 5th Grade
the cat with the green eyes spit
spit spat spit the cat
it stared at me and then
OW that hurt
I remember the tail disappearing
like a plane in the sky
but I still had that scratch
—Adeline Duffy, 6th Grade
How Does Love End
does love end like a volcano
or a balloon popping?
does it end like a 9.9 earthquake
or a tidal wave crashing
against the rock on the shore?
does it end like a one million yard high
waterfall crashing on your head?
well maybe you will find out one day
when you get a divorce from your wife
—Ross Brayton-Cussen, 4th Grade
Woman With An Umbrella
a woman watching
the unreachable blue sky
while the air
blows her image
where it belongs
the delicate green yellow grass
reaches up and calls
the sweet smell of the flowers
the bitter wind blows
her shawl frantically,
and the grass brings her memories
from her childhood
—John Bergantinos, 6th Grade
The Man in the Library
a man sits in the library
books scattered in front of him
words and letters whizz through his mind
the ink bottle and brush wait silently
to be used
he seems to be thinking
of riding his horse in a big open field
as he stares out the window
—Apollo Papafrangor, 5th Grade
Poetry, like passion, like insight, cannot be taught, yet it must be learned. I motivate, enthuse, and co-participate in the creative process, providing students with openings from which to start. A strong group dynamic is at work here, simultaneous with the most private inner searching. I make a safe place for them to share, and I assume the high worth of their creation. They do the rest. Sometimes the results give us goosebumps and a tingling up the spine.
In the following poems, I instructed the students to build on a favorite line or phrase—say, “nothing much”—to hook the reader in the first line, to avoid repetition of the seminal phrase, and to end on the strongest line, with an image to stick in the reader’s mind after the poem is gone. But I remind my students, in poetry, breaking the rules is one of the rules.
Will Staple is a California poet in the schools and practices Zen with the Ring of Bone Zendo.
Nothing much just . . .
A burst of light on the horizon
A flash of blue light over in dusty sky
A lone stone being stroked by whipping waves
A triumphant blow of a golden horn
A speck of sand named “Harry” on the glittering banks
A sweet taste of peppermint tea
A whiff of old picture books
A muddy puddle knee high
A screech of chalk on a chalk board
An old homework assignment crumpled
A marshmallow squishing under feet
An old painting hanging crookedly
Nothing much at all
—Alison Harris, 7th Grade
I Have the Right
I have the right to let my hair down
and run in the fields.
I have the right to slide down a waterfall
I have the right to take off my shoes
and dump them in a pond.
I have the right to write anything.
I have the right to take off the grape skins
before I eat them.
I have the right to move to Spain
and not speak to anyone for five days.
I have the right to dye my hair purple
and eat snails for dinner.
I have the right to pick the flowers in my garden
and make a wreath for my cat.
I have the right to be me.
—Ellie Guy, 7th Grade
I don’t believe
I don’t believe anything
It’s all a scam
Everyone is lying
My life is just a big experiment
There are scientists on planet Bob
They took me from my birth
They gave me weird drugs
To make me think I’m on a planet called Earth
In a fake solar system
With fake people
With fake personalities
And I will be raised to be a perfect person
And will be released at a certain age
Back to planet Bob
—Jonah Mociun, 8th Grade
My mask hides me from
the dark and lonely world outside
My mask makes a smile
when my grandma gives me a sloppy kiss
My mask helps me be good to other people
when I don’t like them
My mask helps me when I am scared
It helps me when I am embarrassed
My mask tells me to act like someone else
when I want to act like myself
My mask tells me I should go on the Big Dipper
when I want to go to the little rides
My mask hides me from girls and fights
My mask hides me from my mad mind
My mask hides me from crying
—Michael Kawa, 7th Grade