Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ya'hu the End of Year Countdown

Fifty-one days . . . .

Yesterday, the power went out during the last period (Something we can expect to happen frequently since the CUC, our island’s power company, doesn’t have enough money to get us through May). Driving away from school, Autumn and I headed for anywhere cold. I suggested a primal scream, and, windows down, we delivered one to the passing hyacinth at the top of our lungs. So good to allow the body to reverberate with soul noise. Especially when followed by five-dollar sushi in an air conditioned restaurant.

Forty-nine days . . .

In the bathrooms, hornets build nests on the hinges of the stall doors. Their homes look both like earthen cones of clay and vessels descended from the sky. As long as the inhabitants leave me alone while I open stall after stall hunting for toilet paper. For some reason the toilet paper is always used up by second period. Budget cuts.

Forty-one days . . .

Sorene says, “Oh, hell!” but with an island accent it sounds like “All Hail.” Macbeth resounds within our orange walls.

Fourth period, I still have some boys who wear their backpacks during class, afraid to set them down. Saipan is known as an island of stealers. When Magellan visited centuries ago, the locals stole his life boats. During a subsequent storm, he and his crew died because they could not escape from their ship. On lesser levels of theft, I’ve “lost” gum, a deck of cards, a set of speakers, a yoga mat, two tetra-pack cartons of milk, and lip balm from my desk. Some days, I lean my elbows on my table, which is lovely reddish hue unfortunately achieved by a termite-treatment spray I pretend is non-toxic, and sigh.

Teaching on Saipan, I am the student. All Hail the teachers—in which ever accent you choose.

Thirty-Seven days . . .

They say attitude is everything. Our art teacher’s license plate says “Yuck Foo.” I am trying to remember the literary term for such transpositions.

Attitude. Yesterday, after a particularly Mondayish Monday, Big Bird (Ben), Oscar the Grouch (Rebecca) and Snuffleupagus (Me) went straight home, exhausted. [Note: the names are all self-elected, Sesame-Street-inspired alter egos. After choosing them, we decided that we must also come up with more Matrix-meets-Manga versions of ourselves for our regular egos.]

My big night: watching the sun set. I sat on the roof and watched the sky for two and a half hours. A storm was breaking miles and miles beyond the reef. Spotlights of sunset broke through in the distance, illuminating the sea in a rosy glow. Beneath the miles-high rain clouds, the sea was battleship gray.

The panorama was so enormous, that I found myself swiveling my head right to left to take it all in. There, in an upper-story window of northern cloud, was a lozenge of ruby. There, to the South above Tinian was a sliding-glass door of blue sky lined with orangesicle. It was like watching the windows of a skyscraper as night fell. They lit up, storey by storey. Story by story.

I taught the word nebulous that day, a steel-gray, battleship day. I also taught Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” where he exhorts readers not to tie a poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it, but, among other things, to “walk inside the poem’s room / and feel the walls for a light switch.”

It was one of those days that just took some time to find the light switch.

And then you reach the end and realize there was a ruby in it after all.

Thirty-five days . . .

Jolyn and Lloyd are practicing a dance for the talent show. They are probably my two best students. Jolyn has just received the Gates Scholarship en route to becoming Saipan’s first orthodontist, and Lloyd writes with a savvy and wit that I haven’t seen since grad school.

They are not a couple, but when a man and woman learn a dance together, it is hard to not think of them as one. The metaphor for relationships being dances has been used and abused. But there’s a reason.

A woman’s small, mechanical voice sings from Jolyn’s i-pod, “ . . . when I put my arms around you . . .” Lloyd explains, “this is where I hold you, this is where I let you go. This is when we come back together again.” Sounds like a Shakespearean comedy. Sounds like life.

Though I am the one sitting behind the desk with my armor of computer grading system, I feel like I am the one with an “incomplete” under an assignment I’ve forgotten.

This is where, in a made-for-high school, made-for-TV-movie, the tinny sound of the small i-pod speaker swells to full orchestral, digital surround. Where the camera spins up and around, giving everyone an eagle’s eye view of their lives.

This where I’m supposed to have one of those epiphanies about the Really Important Things.

We’ll see. I’ve got a stack of pre-progress reports to print off before lunch ends, and I just lost half the seeds of my red bell pepper in the keyboard of my laptop . . . .

Twenty-one days . . . .

My first prom. Wilbrent, in his white tux, offered me his arm when I entered the Royal Taga Hall at World Resort. I had told the kids I was going stag, albeit with my housemates. Third period had the highest number of escort offers. Wilbrent, with his poet’s soul, happened to be there when we got to the door. I just read his chapbook, and, in a poem lamenting a girl who loves someone else, he writes: “Her shadow is a perfect art.” Ah, they will grow up to be fine adults, these.

Nearer the ground on the teeter-totter of teaching, another student plagiarized two poems for his chapbook. One by Christina Rossetti. My dear Filipino basketball player doesn’t quite understand English grammar, let alone a pre-Raphaelite sensibility. I wish he had at least plagiarized someone with his own voice.

Yesterday, we had podiums with microphone and speaker systems delivered to our classrooms. Just in time to do poetry readings from the chapbooks. There was actually a line to the podium to read (maybe because I promised extra credit owing to the general failure to notice that the analysis of five literary terms in poetry presentations comprised the majority of the grade).

Kids brought in treats from the countries of the international poets they had presented on. Or at least they tried to. One student asked what kind of food they ate in Russia. I mentioned blinis and borscht and potatoes. “Oh, can I bring potato chips, then?” I won’t mention the diabetes rates on island.

Rae made a Korean dumpling called mandu. Jasmine, who works at Taco Bell and studied Octavio Paz, was going to bring in some grande burritos, but ran out of time and wore a t-shirt that said “ya’hu” taco bell. “I like” in Chamorro, pronounced “za-hoo.” Janyll, diligently trying to come up with something from Argentina, brought banana bread in the prom bag imprinted “Venez avec moi, Prom 2008” (which had been criminally misprounounced during the morning announcements the weeks leading up to the event). As much as I try to increase their knowledge of the world, I wonder: Paris in Saipan?

Back to Prom. The upper stage had a two-story Eiffel tower strung with lights that the kids could dance under. The Hall was filled with Cinderellas and tuxes. Hair was aerodynamic. Straight locks had been curled, and curls straightened. Formal gowns had been ordered off-island.

They loved it. They wanted to be transported to Paris. Maybe they even like being transported, via poetry, to Romania, Japan, Korea, Germany, the Czech Republic.

Ya’hu Saipan.