Archive for May, 2011

The end of the last grade 9 poetry unit that I will teach in while is upon me.  It is bittersweet.  My love for novels and poems will not be put to use in the language program I will teach next year, but that is OK, I am up for the challenge and change of scenery. I will have to keep some of my favorite poetry anthologies on my bed side table, because the days of flipping through book after book to look for poems to teach will be gone as will be those delicious  moments when you come across a poem that speaks to you that maybe didn’t before and you lose track of time.

This happened to me this morning.  Looking through materials for the final exam, I came across a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.  I have read his poem “Istanbul” many times before, but today it spoke to me in a different way.  Having just spent some luxurious time in a hamam with a dear friend, Billy captured what that experience was like.

Here is the poem, I hope you like it.

Istanbul by Billy Collins

It was a pleasure to enter by a side street
in the center of the city
a bathhouse said to be 300 years old,
old enough to have opened the pores of Florence Nightingale
and soaped the musical head of Franz Liszt.

And it was a pleasure to drink
cold wine by a low wood fire
before being directed to a small room in an upper gallery,
a room with a carpet and a narrow bed
where I folded my clothes into a pile
then came back down, naked
except for a gauzy striped cloth tucked around my waist.

It was an odd and eye-opening sensation
to be led by a man with close-cropped hair
and spaces between his teeth
into a steamy marble rotunda
and to lie there alone on the smooth marble
watching the droplets fall through the beams
of natural light in the high dome
and later to hear the song I sang –
‘She Thinks I Still Care’ – echo up into the ceiling.

I felt like the last of the sultans
when the man returned and began to scrub me –
to lather and douse me, scour and shampoo me,
and splash my drenched body
with fresh warm water scooped from a marble basin.

But it was not until he sudsed me
behind my ears and between my toes
that I felt myself filling with gratitude
the way a cloud fills with rain,
the way a glass pipe slowly fills with smoke.

In silence I thanked the man
who scrubbed the bottoms of my feet.
I thanked the history of the Turkish bath
and the long chain of bathmen standing unshaven,
arms folded, waiting for the next customer
to come through the swinging doors of frosted glass.

I thanked everyone whose job
it ever was to lay hands on the skin of strangers,
and I gave general thanks that I was lying
facedown in a warm puddle of soap
and not a warm puddle of blood
in some corner of this incomprehensible city.

As one bucket after another
of warm water was poured over my lowered head,
I stopped thinking of who and what to thank
and rode out on a boat of joy,
a blue boat of marble and soap,

rode out to the entrance of the harbour
where I raised a finger of good-bye
then felt the boat begin to rise and fall
as it met the roll of the incoming waves,
bearing my body, my clean, blessed body out to sea.


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I do not have a real coherent thread to this post today.  I blame it on the odd, grey weather, which I usually love, but probably only because it is usually warm here by this time with no respite until late September, or it could be the seven year itch, or it could be that I just want to say a couple of things and leave it at that.

The first thing I would like to say is thank you to the people who read and comment on this blog.  I started this blog last year as a way to stretch my brain a little.  It was also an attempt to fend off the inevitable dissatisfaction I was finding with my job–not the teaching part, but the administrative part– which worked for a while (more on that later.)  Then I realized it was also a good way to document the life we share with our boys so that when they are older and we are gone, they will have a record of their early years.  I didn’t get into this gig looking for a readership, so upon seeing a new comment, I am always surprised and tickled when someone finds something that I wrote interesting enough to comment on.  So thanks, it means a lot.

The other thing I want to say, something I probably say to an eye-rolling frequency, is how much I love my job.  When I say job, I mean the teaching gig where I get to interact with creative, dynamic young people and somebody gives me a paycheck.  Today, one of those very people,  now grown from a squirrelly 9th grader to a junior in college, walked into my office for a visit.  We only had about 15 minutes to chat, but it was the breath of fresh air that I needed today. Discussing her plans for after college and what she wants to do with her life, I realized that the tables had shifted and she had become the expert and that I now had a lot to learn from her. It was a delightful experience. This is a student who always had the drive to be who she is becoming, so I can’t take credit for any of it, but I do take pride in seeing her grown into such an aware, intelligent and conscientious young woman and I am honored to have been a blip on her screen seven years ago. Teaching is an interesting profession. This morning, after a poetry lesson tanked with my grade 9 students and I was feeling like the least effective teacher in the world, this lady walks in just to say hi, something I hope is a testament to the 10 months we spent together when she was my student.

Which leads me into another thought, which is the career move I made three years ago, and the career move I am choosing to make in September 2011. While being a manager has been an enlightening and rewarding experience in many ways, it has made me realize even more that what I want to do is teach, and that is it.  Seeing this young lady today, and the visits of other graduates over the past three years,  makes me reflect on the teacher I was when I was just a teacher without the added responsibility of managing adults. While I still think I’ve “got it”, I am not that teacher my former student was coming to see today. And that makes me a little sad.  But what makes me hopeful is that next year, after an intensive summer course in language teaching, I will be moving to a different department of the school, teaching some of the brightest kids in the country how to speak English.  Unencumbered by all things administrative, I plan to get my groove back. What I will bring with me is something I couldn’t have  fine tuned without being a manager for three years and that is a fierce position on what makes a good teacher and an even fiercer position that teaching is where it’s at.

The other thing I want to say is pick up a copy of the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson.  You won’t regret it.

Speaking of which, tucked away into my newly replaced (free of charge) Kindle, Sir Robinson beckons me back to bed.

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