Updated: Jun 15
Written by Ricci Horwedel
First Year Teacher to His Students
By Gary J. Whitehead
Go now into summer, into the backs of cars,
into the black maws of your own changing,
onto the boardwalks of a thousand splinters,
onto the beaches of a hundred fond memories
in wait, where the sea in all its indefatigability
stammers at the invitation. Go to your vacation,
to the late morning cool of your basement rooms,
the honeysuckle evening of the first kiss, the first
dip and pivot, swivel and twist. Go to where the clipper ships sail far upriver, where the salmon
swim in the clean, cool pools just to spawn. Wake to what the spider unspools into a silver
dawn dripping with light. Sleep in sleeping bags,
sleep in sand, sleep at someone else's house in a land you've never been, where the dreamers
dream in a language you only half understand.
Slip beneath the sheets, slide toward the plate,
swing beneath the bandstand where the secret
things await. Be glad, or be sad if you want, but be, and be a part of all that marches past like a parade, and wade through it or swim in it or dive in it with your eyes open and your mind
open to wind, rain, long days of sun and longer
nights of city lights mixing on wet streets like paint.
Stay up so late that you forget day-of-the-week,
week-of-the-month, month-of-the-year of what
might be the best summer, the summer best remembered by the scar, or by the taste
you'll never now forget of someone's lips, and the trips you took—there, there, there,
where snow still slept atop some alpine peak, or where the moon rose so low you could see its tranquil seas...and all your life it'll be like some familiar body that stayed with you one night,
one summer, one year, when you were young, and how everywhere you walked, it followed.
And now, will you bear with me?
I had a religion professor in college who would begin each class asking us to listen to The Writer's Almanac. He would then invite us to connect the day's poem to our readings from the night before--an attempt to bridge, to synthesize, what felt still on the page to our current musings and happenings. This poem came up one morning, and it didn't let me go. I never have forgotten it. And while I was not studying education at that point, I had always been teaching
something or someone: ballet, English to language learners, fellow students. I remember thinking, "If I ever have a classroom, I want them to hear this."
And that seed thought had less to do with the poem itself. By "this" I meant, even then, that I wanted students to read and rake over pieces before them and feel alive. I wanted to remind them that words have power. They invoke _____. Fill in the blank. I yearned for the people with whom I was in community to hear me say, "Look at this beauty!" and "Do you feel the heartbeat of truth here, too?!" and "Your letters strung together can do this!" and "Go now into _____, knowing . . ."
I have had the pleasure to hold students' hands, year after year, semester after semester, season after season, and do just that. Hess has given me that gift. You and your children have given me that gift.
You all have bestowed meaning and purpose upon my life. There are no words vast or numerous enough to thank you. But I do. I thank you all.