A Poem for Tuesday

By law in the great state of Minnesota, public school could not begin until today after Labor Day.  Colin, resigned to it, marched off like the good little soldier he is.

Every time I look at this picture from today, my mind replaces it with this one.

Shoot. I need to go get a Kleenex.  Here, read what Howard Nemerov has to say about this.  The little first grader he writes of turned out to be a professor of Art History and American Studies at Yale — and so we give in to hope for our middle schoolers with sticky lockers today.

September, The First Day Of School
Howard Nemerov


I


My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.


Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible


Bow down before it, as in Joseph’s dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.


II


A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare’s Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler’s Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,


The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic fantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form


Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

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