by Bob Stanley
You've learned how to sit:
sternum lifted, tail bone flat, knees below the hips,
breathing deep, full of awareness and purpose.
You've learned to uncross the legs, drop the head a touch,
as if a small apple rested between your chin and your chest.
You've learned to stand still, at rest,
feet parallel, knees soft, shoulders round, head lifted from the crown,
invisible string pulling from the world above.
You've learned how to work at the desk, hands comfortable at the keys,
arms dangling as relaxed as kelp drifting in Monterey Bay, your spine supple
and calm in the ergonomic office chair, centered and curved,
neck and jaws open and soft as a breeze on a summer night.
You've learned how to lift, how to bend the ankles, the knees,
how to transfer weight; you've even learned about spreading your toes
to balance the energy which flows from center of earth;
you've learned to be tree, mountain, bridge
you've learned to wave hands like clouds.
You've learned all these things and still the pain creeps in because you forget.
You forget when you rush to the keyboard responding to the message
that made your shoulders flare when you read it.
You forget, and pain creeps in when you hunch to one side as you explain a poem,
work on a sentence, check voice mail.
You forget because life is exciting, and in the moments
of excitement you forget so much of what you've learned that you move wrong:
You hunch, crane, yank, slump, tighten, slouch, hold your breath;
and the spine you've spent so much time taking care of cries out, "Don't go here!"
And when you wonder why this is where you go over and over again
where the pain reminds you that you are who you are,
you move the way you move, for better or for worse;
well, then you've learned everything you're going to learn.
by Bob Stanley
I want to live like water
pouring over rocks and grasses to spill
forever forward, down towards the center of
where all water springs once again.
I want to live like air
invisible, nurturing, lighter than humans can sense,
conspicuous only in my absence.
I want to live like wind, and gathering storm, yes, but also live
like quiet sky before sunrise, waiting
for light to fill.
I want to live like earth itself -
to be hard, able to be broken into soft,
to live as surface where creatures come and go
or live as soil from which all gardens grow,
I want to live, I want to give, like earth.
Might I live life as solid as metal
product of earth and flame,
a sword sweeping through air? Beware,
the sharp knife cuts the fire- seared meat.
Aware of the source, I want to live most of all
Center of the circle, changing the elements
since we first gathered, discovered,
stared across the rising flame in wonder
at each other's faces warm and bright,
I want to live like the fire;
I want to live.
Walt Whitman teaches Freshman Composition
by Bob Stanley
Sailing upon this noble ship of words, this craft of language, I come before you, full of the wisdom with which I shall bring you your own true fullness of speech. Yea, follow me through the beloved steps that will make you articulate in the extreme. For I am the English teacher, the one for whom America has waited; I hold the key to unlock the meaning in what is now your uncertain, your broken attempts at paragraphic journeys.
For I know you have much to say, as you have traveled this wide land, and played its video games of great graphic violence, and stared at its screens for so many hours that the wisest of sages might ask what are these screens, these mesmerizing tops of lap, or book of face, as they be known? What are the stories that lie within these magic pads? They must be very deep and compelling stories indeed.
For as you, dear student, now in college dwell, this highest institution of our corn-fed land, where the noblest thoughts occur to those of us who bury themselves in deeps of thought, even now I, your dedicated teacher, read a message from my colleagues, teachers, union, beneficent grange of thinkers, as they happily negotiate with the leaders of the school, scholars thinking deep and wide on your behalf.
But even as I digress, the work lies before us. For we shall embark upon the essay together, and attack the article. We shall summarize the story, define the description, opine the opinion. For we have so much to speak of, sap and root, spring and fall semester side by side we will amble the quad of sycamore and plum, from bud to blossom to leaf upon the vale.
So let us join hands, and raise our arms, and together we will banish the endless and thoughtless run-on, and join the orphan fragment to its nurturing mother sentence. What once was lost shall be found. Listen closely, that we will identify and capture passive verb forms, and recast the hapless agent, pinned by preposition, until it become the wise and forthcoming subject, and lay waste to what is not direct, and godly, and pure. For the English teacher shall reveal and bless the semi-colon, a wink of crescent moon and star.
For the English teacher shall make clear the comma, the breath, the moment's pause.
For the English teacher shall create equal access to the apostrophe, joiner of subject and verb, the mark of ownership yet democratic and even-handed.
Ah, ownership, Ah, America, our capitalist utopia! We will embark upon the thoughts that have made us so free, and kind, and outspoken.
But first the professor will explain effect and affect. It's and its. There, their and they're. The pleasant foibles of the language we love. So democratic in that we equally can not spell its simplest words! English, we laugh with you, and you with us, as we sail confidently towards our first thesis statement.
But first the professor will explain the five-paragraph essay, although what we read will seldom fit the form. The professor will become increasingly lost on the journey, yes your journey to clear expression. Imagine Brooklyn Ferry, not on a sunny day, but a sleet-filled windstorm. And running among the weary travelers, from drenched face to drenched face, your professor runs, looking for a way to know you, to waken you from the danger that lies if the craft continue unchecked. The roiling waters are not clear.
Ah but this is merely frivolous metaphor? I know the student of today is prepared. He comes with many languages that prepare him for so much more, and so much less than what this class asks of him.
And as the winds of thought may blow, may thy craft carry thy wisdom forward to new lands that you may look back upon your essay a hundred years hence, and smile, remembering the open dreams of youth, and the power of the word as it leaps the page, now and forever, in sound and sight and mind, I ask you now to begin to craft the task that I have assigned.
Seven minutes of pencils upon paper, seven minutes as close to heaven as the bards of time have come, now, ephebes, bathe in these immortal waters of written word as I observe you, glowing with thought, even as the sun reveals itself above the eastern range. Write, and bring light to the world. And watch the run-ons.
Bob Stanley teaches English at California State University, Sacramento, and Sacramento City College. Bob's poems have been published in various journals and anthologies, and have won a number of awards including the California Focus on Writers first prize for poetry in 2006. President of the Sacramento Poetry Center, Bob is currently editing a collection of poetry by poets laureate from the cities and counties of California. He and his wife Joyce have four children, and they have lived in the Arden area of Sacramento since 1989. Bob's first chapbook, Walt Whitman Orders a Cheeseburger, will be published by Rattlesnake Press in the spring of 2009.