High School English Afternoons

© 2010 David Parker

This afternoon is turning out to be a tease. From the looks of it, I should be able to open my window, but it’s too hot and the pitiful puffs breeze are just enough to blow my papers around. And there are so many papers. So. Many. Papers. The moment I catch up is the very same in which I fall behind. By the time my planning period rolls around, I’m over it. I’m already thinking about walking with my face turned up to the sun so bright, so blindingly bright I shut my eyes and wind up running into something. But I grade papers instead with my feet propped up on the windowsill. Somedays I can’t even stand music. Today, with my tests for tomorrow made up already, and a fresh stack of classwork that I can grade at home, I chose to write.

No one ever tells you about working inside all day and what an underwhelming bummer it can be. How you could lose your stomach from the force, the fall of a sugar crash. How you can read so much that the text begins to lift itself off the page, meeting you halfway.  Newly acquired job skill: I can actually read aloud and think about something entirely different, which is kind of like taking a vacation in the midst of the most boring piece of your day (imagine reading the same piece of text three times a day for 30-minutes to students who feel like they’re really out-doing themselves by halfway listening). The problem with work is that I don’t have time to get so totally absorbed inside of myself that nothing exists but the words I’m generating on the page. 70 teenagers come and go from my classroom throughout the day. And I love them. I do. But I can see why so many people put off writing their whole lives: because it’s demanding. Almost as demanding as 70 teenagers in five hours.

Whenever I pick up Ruthie from school, I always say, “I missed you all day!” Sometimes I feel that way about myself.

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nothing breaking the losing of no little piece

© 2010 David Parker

I’m washing dishes at the kitchen sink. I’m angry. The water is running from my hands to my elbow and puddling on the floor around my feet. I scrub the plate hard, feel the beading around the edges. I’m thinking harder than I’m scrubbing, my thoughts like fists on the back of my brain. Put the plate down on the rack to dry. I’ve exhausted it. Pick up the forks, knives, spoons. In my small hands they look awkward, heavy, primitive. The skin on my hands is older, harsher than I remember. When I straighten them, my knuckles look like the rings inside a tree cut down. I pause. Bring my hands dripping out of the water, stare at them. Pick up a glass. More scrubbing.

I realize I’m holding my breath. Exhale.

There’s mold growing up the inside of my single-paned windows above the kitchen sink. The plants are drooping over the windowsill. It’s too hard to remember something so simple as to water them. Their pots were painted by Ruthie.

The anger is beginning to bleed out of me into the warm soapy water. With every tedious piece of silverware scrubbed clean, I feel less like wings beating against a cage.

I put the last clumsy spoon in the silverware basket, wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. My gaze is directed through the window just above me, but my mind is still reeling from the rage, slowing down like a roulette wheel with the little ball clicking over the redblackredblackredblack. My focus shifts outside of myself, and I notice that it’s not dark yet. I see the trees with their leaves pressed up against the sky as if at any moment, someone could pluck them from the ground leaving only their impressions against the clouds. The leaf-stippled sky quiets the guilt I feel for getting so angry over what I’m not sure.

The sound of running water and Ruthie’s heavy footsteps behind me, her voice chirping. It’s bathtime.

Drive

© 2010 David Parker

Six hours of interstate brought me to this bed and I can already feel the sting of Monday slapping me in the face. The last two hours of our trip home were spent in the dark and my mind felt cool and clear. I was granted the eerie blessing of an Alabama interstate at night: three crosses on a hill lit by the halogen floodlight behind the Sneaky Pete’s, the Mattress Man’s van parked next to the abandoned gas station whose pumps have been consumed by kudzu, the metal carcasses of abandoned cars cold and empty in my headlights, the reflectors humming by on railings close enough to make me tighten my grip on the steering wheel, and the white dotted lines on the road that merge together into the distance to form one long glowing thread to follow. The sound of nothing–of space, time, air–rushing past us, over us, around us. I steeled myself against thinking about tomorrow or yesterday and was met with a great deal of resistance, but my mind was generally quiet. I wore alone like a costume made out of scraps of memory that felt like panty hose on my skin.

Especially Promise

© 2010 David Parker

It’s official: the last hour of the day when it’s a Friday is a terrible time to try to write something. Especially if you had a nice dinner. Especially if you took your dog on a walk (I say two miles, David says not even one). Especially if you’ve already fallen asleep for the night. Super-especially if you have nothing to say.

My sincerest promise for more and better tomorrow.

What’s Left Over

© 2010 David Parker

First day of school. My brain is melting into the soles of my feet and Ruthie needs a bath, needs a story, needs to go to bed (but she’s not tired). I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have taken such a break this past summer. The school year is such a shock to my system and I can’t seem to muster up the momentum to establish the kind of humming rhythm that keeps me from feeling buried.