Saturday, February 2, 2008

The main themes

Third period, Giqo asked if I would help him write a poem about eczema.

“Let me guess, it has to rhyme, and it’s for your fourth period health class?” He snapped his fingers with a smile, found out.

Another student in second period had asked me to look at her poem . . . at least she had already written it. Lot’s of suffering and isolation—I can’t even remember what disease she had written about, just that the speaker was on the verge of death and no one appreciated him. I forget how much high schoolers love drama. For the poetry slam in November, the winner did a teary performance about someone wishing she could come back from the grave after dying in a drunk-driving accident. Ah, if only such steep tragedy had half as much literary quality as it does exclamation points.

At lunch, I walked across the “Sahara,” the rambling grass field between my building and the library, to Ben’s ceramic studio. I passed students eating beneath the trees where I took my fourth period to read Beowulf the last time the power went. They sit in clusters, some wishing they were in other clusters, some all alone together, some all alone. Any high school anywhere.

I was carrying a manila folder with things for the librarian to laminate, things that are a lovely cross-section of what I get teach. The thirty-one rules of courtly love (for an AP exercise in which each student took a rule and wrote a scenario, Cyrano-de-Bergerac-style, in which it would apply), a page from Vogue showing a slew of runway fashions inspired by medieval armor (for The Canterbury Tales), and three of the best flyers last semester’s students designed for their performances of Macbeth.

When I arrived at the studio, Ben and P.E. teacher Glen were watching a muted basketball tournament alternatively with the presidential debates. Glen discovered a lady who makes Thai soup for three dollars. You pick it up in knotted bags: one with the noodles, one with the broth and greens. Two smaller bags tied come together: one with vinegar seasoning and the other with salted chilis.

As I walked back to my room beneath the covered walkways—it had started raining—I passed the senior boys singing island songs to ukulele. They sing beautifully, and I always stop to listen. I don’t have to understand Chamorro to know that they are singing of the same things we study in literature, the same things they like to write and read poems about. Life, love, loss.

Such is every day. Such is a Friday at Saipan Southern High School.

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