Poetry Friday — Old Shoe and Pencil

Here are a couple poems that I wrote in class recently in front of — and with the help of — the kids. We were thinking about similes. The kids call them smiles, which is more appropriate than some of them might imagine since sometimes similes break across a poem like a smile breaks across a face.

These two poems were inspired by some of Valerie Worth’s poems about ordinary objects from All the small poems and fourteen more. I like that book. A lot. As usual, it was fun to write in front of the kids and to share a pen.

Please visit Jone at Check it Out for more Poetry Friday.

Poetry_FridayOld Shoe

Drags across
the carpet
like a tugboat
in a harbor
exhausted feet,
heavy cargo for
the waiting


My haircut is a
red flat-top.

My long

that glides like
a ballet dancer
across white paper,
squirting words
when I twirl.

Poetry Friday — Ode to My Ax

I live on a hillside near a small town in Iowa. My house is heated with oak wood that I take from a small woodlot. It is such a pleasure to cut, chop, haul, and stack firewood. To feel the warmth of the fire in the arc of an ax. Yup. I completely get the fidgety-ness of some of the boys in my classroom, boys who need to move or they’ll burst. A few days ago I spent several hours in the woods under a cold, gray sky splitting oak trees that fell in a windstorm last summer. On a long day in late winter it doesn’t get much better than that.

For more Poetry Friday, please visit Julie Larios’ place, The Drift Record.

Poetry_FridayOde to My Ax

Now the ax leans silently,
but on this February day,
when low clouds
spat snow onto

my curved back,
and from under
a watch cap, sweat
seeped into my eyes

you, ax, sang
the sweet oak song.
Oh Pavaratti
of metal and wood,

your notes sharp and precise
rang through the trees,
a three-hour opus,
a metronome of blows;

You, ax, who cleaved
a hundred summers
in one mighty crack,
stand propped and ready

against the woodpile,
true as the dog who
basks near the
embers you supply;

I honor you, ax,
ancient lever and wedge,
multiplier of muscle,
honed steel and hickory,

your flawless form
unlocks the
banked fire
of a distant sun.

Ax, I praise you.
Lean and rest,
for a job done well.

© Steve Peterson

Poetry Friday: A Certain Kind of Acceptance

Poetry_FridayWhile I wrote this week’s Poetry Friday poem at an earlier time, it does give a hint about my mood these days. It’s a poem about what I sometimes choose to accept and what I don’t accept.

So, why post such a poem as this now? Hmmm…I wonder. This is the week the kids take the Iowa Assessments at our school. While the kids in my classroom usually do pretty well on them, there are some who don’t. Regardless of the outcome, I end up feeling like a schmuck for putting 8- and 9-year old children through this ritual. I resent taking time away from my instruction to give the tests, the way they disrupt our learning. To compensate for this disruption, the tests reveal that this child can’t read the words of the test well enough to engage her brain productively in the task of deciding “which of the four answers presented is better than the others.” That one devours tests as if they were Hershey’s kisses lined up in a row, with a similar amount of thought. But I knew these things already because I know the kids through their writing, through listening to them read, and through many, many conversations. The tests don’t add anything useful to my understanding, and they put a good-sized hole in our joint quest to learn, and learn better.

Many folks already know about the rising tide of test refusal around the country. Readers of this blog know that I’ve been struggling with what to accept within my profession and within my own work place; with what to try to change and how. While necessary sometimes, being a burr under the saddle of an institution isn’t comfortable for the burr anymore than the horse. And, as Megan Allen said recently, one has choices to make in order to maintain one’s teacher mojo, accepting gentleness and time for oneself are some of these.

So, here’s a poem about a certain kind of acceptance. To change oneself and one’s world, isn’t the first thing to name what needs to be changed?

SepticA Certain Kind of Acceptance

A photo of a billboard
hangs in a narrow space
in a small closet
in my classroom —
Steve’s Septic:
I’ll take Crap
from Anyone.
I was brought up
to accept almost anything
with at least a nod.

Like the waste can
receives the remains of
that man’s lunch;
Or the apple trees,
their pruning.
Yes. In an old movie, a man
closed his eyes,
arched his spine to bare
his neck for the barber’s razor.
Yes. Like these.

But not like the
stigma welcomes
pollen borne
on the spring wind.
No. Not like waves
clap rocks
on broad shoulders;
Nor like the spider
embraces the lacewing.
No. Not like these.

© Steve Peterson

PS. For some great poetry, please visit the good folks at Teaching Authors.

Poetry Friday: Winter Haiku

Poetry_FridayHere are three winter haiku(s?) for you(se?)! I’m enjoying the cold, squeaky snow and the glowing wood stove. The dogs are enjoying after school walks in the woods behind the house, though I still sport a headlamp to keep from running into the trees! Soon, that will change as the sun reappears.

About the haiku. If you’re counting, you’ll notice that I didn’t follow the 5-7-5 format. Instead, I’m thinking of haiku as a small moment that is introduced to an image. These two hang out together and chat. We eavesdrop on the conversation.

For more coherent thinking about haiku outside the 5-7-5 lines (and what studying genre can do for ya), see a beautiful post by one of my favorite education thinkers at To Make a Prairie.

Please check out other poems at host Renee’s blog, No Water River.

WaterdripsThree winter haiku

snow burdened roof
frozen beads entomb the
dying sun

powder snow —
sapphire glyphs scatter
behind the juncos

crescent moon
cradled by rime-cloaked twigs
distant coyotes

© Steve Peterson

Poetry Friday — Snapping Turtle

For the new year, here’s a poem about a little turtle, huge determination, and a new life. Besides, I liked this little guy.

baby snapperSnapping Turtle

New eyes smolder
with fierce desire.

Such a difficult entry through a
narrow door. Your sanctuary
became your prison. Behind,

winter stalks slowly in the night
frost. Its shadow lurks in the
angle of the light. Ahead,

an arduous journey to break
the ties that bind you to
this fading place.

You seek a realm your
hooded eye insists exists,
but has never seen.

If you survive, you arrive
in paradise, a world green
with sweeping grace. Beauty

will inhabit this house
forever. Bound by breath
to the land of your birth,

you will dwell
in the rooms between.

© Steve Peterson

Poetry_FridayFor more Poetry Friday, please visit Matt’s place, Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme. Also, there you’ll find some wonderful poetry and prose regularly, so follow him or check back often!

Poetry Friday: The Measure of a Life

In honor of the nicks and blessings of the old year and with hope for building something beautiful in the new one, here’s a poem about the way small things just do add up.

Poetry_FridayThe Measure of a Life

After the funeral,
from the detritus of
grandfather’s shop
drifted to my toolbox
a brass-hinged ruler.

Verner’s hands
wore it down to brown
long before the metal
tape I knew
lost its numbers.

At fifteen-inches,
several scratches,
rubbed black,
whisper the
unremembered past.
An image flickers:

Dark haired.
Crooked smile.
Arm taut. Guide finger
set. Intent.

Then fades.
Each focused moment
leaves its mark.
Layered years
the measure of a life.

© Steve Peterson

For more Poetry Friday poems, please hang out for a spell at Carol’s Corner.

Poetry Friday: This happens

One reason I like poetry is because it reminds me to notice things that I might miss otherwise. What richness we are offered even on an errand into that silent night, eh?

By C m handler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By C m handler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This happens

Moonless December.

Gravel crunches beneath leather boots,
and a keen bare-twig wind.

Weary eyes fix on the path that threads
through inky frost toward the garden.

In a gloved hand,

the compost bucket squeaks
heavily on metal hinges.

Exhale. Pause. A glance
above. Stars hang

like woven baskets.

A fiery spear pierces
Orion’s upraised arm.

An ancient clock, five
billion years reliable — vaporizes.

This happens.

© Steve Peterson


If you haven’t stopped by Jama’s Alphabet Soup for a warm helping of Poetry Friday, please do! Also, you’ll see some wonderful book reviews there on a regular basis.

Poetry Friday

Poetry_FridayMaybe it’s because my parents are getting older, but I’m beginning to see how a life can become filled with all sorts of chance events, momentary happenings that fall and drift like snow. As it turns out, some of these things that happen…well…you don’t notice them much, and, of course, they are too numerous to report; some of them you recognize as important from the get-go; and some of them take awhile to sink in, you have to look backwards in a mirror to see their meaning, to construct a story about how you got to where you got. Maybe you understand what I mean.

This poem emerged from thinking about my father’s diagnosis of melanoma and my mom’s cancer diagnosis. Both are doing well now, but the collision of events like these does cause me to consider that I am here, with them, at this moment. I need to make the most of it because time flies…

Like an Arrow

You are here.
–Anonymous, stairwell map, St. Joseph’s Hospital

You are here
next to a spider fern,
sweating silently in
a green vinyl armchair.

You are here
by the large window
that opens to shadowed
gray two-story concrete walls.

And through one gap—
the top of a crane,
a truck’s right front fender,
an orange plastic mesh fence.

You are here when
a June-bright sun-ray
glances precisely off
the windshield

of a white Toyota
momentarily framed
by the window’s
aluminum side jambs,

a sharpness that arrives
in one brilliant instant,
causing you to
blink back a tear.

And though you don’t remember,
you were there,

younger, invulnerable, powerful,
wiping the sweat from your damp brow
with your hayfork hand
in the wind and shimmer of mid-summer.

Yes, you were there
when, like an arrow
from an adept archer,
a photon barely nine minutes old

sliced through ninety-three
million miles of cold space
and the outer layers of skin
on your right arm.

Its dying energy
gouged a chunk
from the DNA of a
single skin cell.

At that moment
a future unchained.

It would take us
the next twenty years
to understand
what just happened.

© Steve Peterson

For lots of Poetry Friday poems by lots of different folks, please visit Read, Write, Howl.

Poetry Friday

Lately, I’ve been reading the Minnesota poet, Louis Jenkins. I love the way his prose poems contain both humor and a touch of darkness, the way they twist and twine around an idea or an image. They play seriously. That’s the kind of poem for me! So, I decided to give the form a try. This is completely experimental, my first-ever attempt at such a thing.

PS. I’m not even sure what a prose poem is, exactly, but I think this might be one…

Like a Tree

Once upon a time I was young and on the lookout for metaphors. They’d appear like boxelder bugs: I found them everywhere. About that same time, I hiked up the Rose Lake Cliff that overlooks Canada. On top, 400 feet above almost everything, the wind blew hard and fast, all the way from Lake Winnipeg. It pummeled an old spruce tree that grew like Yoda from the rocks, battering it this way, yanking it that way. I imagined how many winters this tree had endured, exposed to the icy blast of Arctic snow, how it tapped a meager living from the cleaved rock. Its will to live was great. Its fortitude vast. It personified sisu, a Finnish word my aunt Nedra said means perseverance beyond reason.

While I observed and pondered, the tree uprooted in the gale, and disappeared over the edge of the cliff.

Several years later, I scrubbed greasy fry pans deep beneath a Minneapolis restaurant. Turns out, one of the guys I worked with was just like that tree. I think it helped our relationship to have met him earlier as a metaphor.

© Steve Peterson

Slice of Life — Poem

This poem started as a writing exercise with my third graders that was inspired by Valerie Worth’s wonderful book of poetry. I let it sit for awhile. Recently I returned and realized that, away from a classroom full of eight- and nine-year olds, the poem had transformed into something about how time changes stuff… Hmmm.

Lake Superior Stone

Once the first fire
belched you
from a fierce,
young earth.
Demon hordes
covered the land,
pikes held in formation,
taut and sharp.

Now, children of fire,
ancient sheep
separated from
the mother-flock;
you carry
the great lake’s
restless waters
on your back
and rub red shoulders

How many years
to freeze your fire,
to blunt your spear,
to become so
cool and smooth,
cool and smooth?