The Blue Pitcher

that which may be filled and emptied

Category: teaching

Any Old Bird

Today’s News:

1) The man who looks like Jesus and is always on crutches is passing my window now.

2) Thorn’s closest friend had a massive heart attack.

3) I received an email entitled “The Small Musculature of Birds.”

4) My little sister, Madeline, emailed as well. She will be ten on Saturday. She has been dabbling in trapeze. I was very impressed with her syntactical structure.

5) I played Miles Davis for my students. Kerri wrote about clouds changing shapes; Nakeea wrote about her mom getting her hair done on Fridays.

It’s all got me thinking…

And when you think, you start to hear your heart, and when you start to hear your heart, it’s almost all you can hear, and just when you start to believe it’s out of control–that it’s beating and beating and beating itself blue–you realize it’s only the flapping of the bird’s wings, but it’s not any old bird, it’s the bird that was born out of the robin egg that you found as a child, the one you wanted to put in your sweatshirt pocket and carry down the dusty road to the store, the one you wanted to place in a nest made out of a Mountain Dew bottle and seventy-two straw wrappers, the one you wanted to keep your secret because you knew one day a bird would fly out, and it would be all yours, and you could name it, and it would sing you to sleep and sing you to wake and sing you into those crazy dreams. Birds, you’d say and point out the window. Your mother would nod; your husband would smile; your father would play a little bird song.

I have been teaching again. Chris who is nine and has autism flaps his arms when he sees me. Poetry, he says. We fly. Airplane. Bird. It’s our warm-up exercise–flying, shaking, slithering like snakes, hopping like bunnies. I’m thrilled, of course, that it is the flying he holds on to. For years, (and I’ve written this before but I have to say it again because I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten it really right), for years, teaching students with autism made me feel like a giant bird. I’d flap and flap and flap. The only thing I could think to compare the students with was a man I loved in college, one who was far way, one who seemed impervious to all the flapping in the world, who drove a Saab and wore sunglasses and played a too kind hand of Gin Rummy.

Now, though, I just sit. I put my hands on the desk, and I make the students breathe. We inhale, exhale, inhale again. It is peaceful, and they are with me (a feat I never thought I’d accomplish), but I love that there is still a bit of the bird in me, that Chris points to me and says, Fly.

This was the first blog entry I ever read: (It’s a beauty.)

What I Learned @ the BBQ

Hyeji can really put it away:
Basic Truism: The more meat the better.
And finally…
and I mean never,
turn your back on a student.


I have bought the lavender, chips and buns. At five o’clock, six students–few of whom speak English with any ease–will arrive at my house. I will stuff them with hot dogs, cupcakes and lemonade.

Before I decided to take on this International class, I was working on a novel with a character who taught ESL. The classroom scenes were always delightful: a comedy of lovely linguistic errors. The true experience is nothing like I imagined. We will sit–rather awkward but still somehow charmed, just happy to be in each other’s presence. We will nod a lot but say very little, and then they will leave. Jiexun will take the remaining food. Sung and Jae Shin will thank me profusely though Sung will likely have snuck in alcohol. Hyeji and Li will speed away with Jordan in his sports car as I stand on the stoop waving and smiling. I’ll take a damp sponge to the counter wondering why we do it, all the reaching out, the trying to understand.

Honestly, it sometimes seems easier with these students. From the beginning there is no pretense of understanding or construct of shared space. Every gesture is new; every word is reaching towards connection.

A lotus blossom, I tell my students. Unfolding.

They laugh at my attempt to translate into what I believe is their culture.

Rose? they ask. Red rose, and again we nod, smile, pass the potato salad, unknown flowers blooming wildly in our heads.