I went downtown to the Northfield Arts Guild this afternoon to walk around the Northfield High School senior honors art show. As I was admiring Paloma Garcia's delicate and sensitive watercolor and ink renderings of photographs from the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, the artist herself walked in and gave a little squeal of delight to see the red sticker—meaning Sold—next to one of her pieces. I was so impressed by the exhibit, and I lingered in front of imaginative "doodle" portraits by Claire Johnston, remarkable watercolor and ink landscapes by Ashley Tollefson, and remarkable stylized paintings by Gus DeMann. Once again, as so often, I was blown away by the amount of youthful talent in Northfield. But not all the talent is so youthful. Before I left the arts guild, I stopped in the shop and bought this lovely ceramic mug (sitting on my cluttered desk) created by fellow Northfield blogger Jim Haas, a self-described "somewhat cranky old man." I love the brown lines against deep blue-green and brown. It makes me think of prairie. Meanwhile, walking through the gallery reminded me that these talented young artists were fourth graders the year I started substitute teaching in Northfield, something I did fairly regularly in 2000 and 2001. It was one of those fourth graders who inspired this poem, one of my favorites from my chapbook, The Collecting Jar:
Nothing I could write is as beautiful as you.
For you I put out the flower of myself,
and you likewise cannot help but blossom.
There is nothing more natural than the flourish
with which you open into the world,
petalling outward in the profusion of yourself
as if radiance were the simplest gift.
Even the girl on the playground
who sits alone with her knees to her chin
is a bud of great hopefulness, the center
of her own creation. She knows
the best thing is to be wanted, and the miracle
is that she will blossom so many times,
resiliently reaching sunward for her place
in the world. It is the same for me,
coming each morning to a different
set of lesson plans, graphing myself to the arc
of your upward growth: for you I am flowering again.
For you I have had to relearn everything but love.
Those fourth graders are graduating this year. And, oh, how brilliantly they have flowered!
"Substitute Teaching" © Copyright 2002 by The English Journal.
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