Before I read a story, I read a poem to the kindergarten classes that come to see me in the library. I choose silly poems, poems that can be acted out, poems that rhyme and have a good beat. Such was the case with a poem called “Mr. Skeleton.”
Mr. Skeleton where’s your bone?
Somebody stole it from your home!
Now, Mr. Skeleton, find your bone!
Once we got familiar with the words, I had the students stand up and form a circle. Someone stood in the center as “Mr. Skeleton” and covered his or her eyes. The rest of the class put their hands behind their backs and chanted the poem while I moved among them, placing a marker (our pretend bone) in someone’s hand. When the poem was over, Mr. Skeleton guessed three times to find his stolen bone.
It’s a rowdy poem, and it’s kind of scary too, but it was so much fun. I couldn’t get enough of the smiles or the stomping or the hip shaking and the raised voices when we shouted, “FIND YOUR BONE!”
No matter the story, I love finding a way to make it come alive for students. This is what I was thinking as I left school to get a cup of coffee on my lunch break. While I drove, the song on the radio was good, the sun was shining on a crisp autumn afternoon, and I was headed for perhaps the best coffee shop I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a lot). As if I was in a movie, a wind blew, dragging leaves across my windshield. I blinked and encountered a memory of an afternoon discussing The Hobbit with a group of seventh-graders.
I don’t remember what I’d planned to do that day, although I know we were well enough into the book to discuss Bilbo Baggins, the possessive dragon, crazy Gandalf, the mischievous elves, and the rowdy dwarves. All I remember is one of my students raised her hand and questioned whether we ought to read J.R.R. Tolkien because we were in a Christian school.
I took a breath to steady myself and quickly call on God, Gandalf, and Professor McGonagall to help me turn what I knew was a challenge into an opportunity.
It has been my experience that seventh grade is a different beast than sixth and eighth grades. Suddenly my classroom was turned into what felt like a college level English course. I no longer needed to call on raised hands or direct students to a certain page number or say something like, “Remember this plot point” because they were doing it themselves.
The conversation was lively, but it wasn’t disrespectful. Students discussed their faith and how what they read both challenges and deepens what they believe. Those that were fearful of the magic and the monsters in the novel could express that — safely — on this day and nobody rolled their eyes or made fun of them. In fact, the more adventuresome, mischievous students — Tolkien might have called them the dwarves of the class — were the ones who gently but passionately explained why magic and monsters were needed in almost any story worth reading.
How else can we make sense of things unseen?
The coffee shop is just down the road form my school, but by the time I’d parked the car, I felt like I’d been in a time machine. I remembered what I was wearing, I could see my students, smell the classroom, I could feel my copy of The Hobbit in my hands.
Andrew Whitman’s Sinner’s Sonnet came on the radio. I’ve always felt a little humorous thrill singing along with the first lines: “I’m leaving, and there’s no coming back / Got no room for places like this in my sack,” but that afternoon I was sad.
I thought of Bilbo Baggins racing away from the Shire in the hopes of catching up with the dwarves so he could go on an adventure he knew he was not equipped to go on and had no interest in going on in the first place, but no matter. The Took side had taken over. I thought of Mr. Skeleton, looking for his bone.
On that short drive I realized how very sad Mr. Skeleton must’ve been to lose part of what held him together. Like him, something in my life is missing. The memories of what used to be — of what I used to be — came out to play on a perfect fall day when I was just trying to grab a cup of coffee. They came out to play like the kindergarteners did, smiling, their hands behind their backs, taunting, “Try and guess where the thing you lost went!” And even if I find it, will I be able to put it back? Will I be the same?
For this week’s prompt, look at your heart map, or perhaps, if a memory comes out to play on a given day, as it did for me, take a moment to wallow in and sit with it. Write a poem about that lost memory that’s presented itself to you through your heart, or in your day.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Richard Maxson that we enjoyed.
The small Christmas cardigan
lost, the reindeer unraveled,
set free in the snow.
The Milky Way floats
like distant flakes
lost in their drifting.
There is a day, a smile,
in the time that snow
fell in the flash of warm light.
I always find you there.
When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher. I ended up an accountant instead, and after reading The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet, I realize it’s probably a good thing, because I don’t have the gift that Callie Feyen has. She pulls meaning from even the smallest things and helps us relate something that can be hard to understand to situations and feelings in our own lives. It’s been a long time since I have read Romeo and Juliet, and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much when I did study it in school. But now I know how much I missed and I am looking forward to reading it with new eyes. If only we could all have had teachers like Callie, challenging us to see more and feel more!
—JJN Mama, Amazon reviewer