Growing up, my family took long road trips, and during those drives,
my dad would make up stories and words out of his head, all made up on the spot!.
My sister and I would be completely transfixed by the simple, sheer love for words
our father displayed as he drove along. Not to be outdone, my mother was always writing,
writing, writing. In my family, there was always this love for the written word. Both my
parents taught me that sharing what is in my heart is an important way to leave my mark,
an astounding way to change a mood, lift a soul, shift politics, and even reach out across
the universe. Words are works of art, every single one of them. And this is what Badgerdog
teaches kids. What an amazing gift!
Badgerdog provides kids with the opportunity to meet with grown up versions of themselves—
writing instructors who show them that that little voice inside our heads and
hearts knows what it’s talking about. And it must be released!
And Badgerdog understands the brilliance of this voice. By encouraging students to:
fearlessly capture their voice through the written word, courageously step back to
patiently observe and critique, utilize time and space, edit excess or enhance what
is necessary—whether tragic or comedic, exposing bigotry or fact—Badgerdog
workshops create a gathering place for kids to jump into the unknown, to find
their voice early, to stand on their own two feet, to feel respected and honored
through an amazing art form that, so far as we know, only we humans can share
with one another. Instructors lay out tools, kids throw out ideas, and voila!—a
creative swimming pool for splashing, playing, jumping, diving, resting, sunning,
laughing, snorkeling…Starting at the surface, the sunshine skimming across the
chlorine free waters, there is no way you can drown here. You are held buoyant
by the reflections of your fellow swimmers, by teachers who encourage you to
find the hidden, to dive down to the deepest, darkest part of yourself, to open up
and let the pearl float to the surface.
While drastic cuts to school funding for the arts threaten to take away every
child’s right to have access and exposure to essential forms of espression
(such as creative writing), Badgerdog steps in with their own spectacular brand
of teaching. Badgerdog attracts an amazing array of talented professional
writers who are also enthusiastic instructors. Ultimately, this diverse, exceptional
staff provides a diving board for kids to spring into the pool. By working so
intimately with professional writers, kids realize, “Hey! I can be a WRITER when I
grow up!” Writing becomes an option, not just a dream, and, for some, an idea
that wouldn’t have been born had there been no exposure to the craft at all!
Can you imagine how many e.e.cummings, Dorothy Parkers, Langston Hughes,
Nikki Giovanni’s or Sarah Birds are being created with the aid of Badgerdog?
(If you can’t, come with me to a workshop, and I’ll show you kids who are ready
for the Algonquin Round Table. Once you’ve met these young writers,
I know you’ll be compelled to write your own poem before walking out of the room!)
During my joy-filled experience of working with two Badgerdog classes this summer,
I was astounded at how attuned the kids were to absorbing what I had to share,
their eagerness to write and expound on what they felt was important. Not just for
that moment, either, but to pass on: not just to me, or others in the class, or for
this very anthology, but to future generations. They had the fever of not only wanting
to write, but wanting to inspire others as well. And, in all honesty, without kids learning
the love of writing poetry, short stories, and novels right here, right now…
well, who will inspire us down the road?
Let me just emphasize, again, that written expression must be supported
in our society, lest our society fall deeper into its already potentially
dangerous sleep. I want to be a living alarm clock. I strive to, like the kids
in this anthology, be a pearl. So, yesterday morning, waiting outside a locked
bus station in Asheville, NC, I wrote down this poem for the kids of Badgerdog
because they inspire me. To them I say: keep writing. To the adults I plead:
support the essence of what Badgerdog releases—the ability for each
of these kids to not only expand what is true, but to be the very truth itself.
Out of no where, up walks Shane.
Through two teeth he spits,
Apologizing for his dirty fingertips.
Takes my hand, shakes my hand,
I offer up no name.
“That’s dried blood,” I note:
He releases my hand with a curse.
Again, he spits disgusted, alert:
“He swung first, coulda been worse…
Know what I mean?”
Such a flood of emotion, his eyes hold
His notion: my life’s spent.
Purple cone flowers shooting upward shift
For frigid fog’s awakening.
Everywhere, Queen Anne’s lace
Oblivious to the suffering, reigning
Over poverty and no one but the bees…
And the bees buzz blankly
Intent on just one thing.
Two jaundiced yellow sunflowers looming overhead,
Slurping my Starbucks, I’m
Watching their process,
A slow recess,
Unaware earth’s kiss
Will catch them soon.
Smiling stalks support clown flowered suits
Attempting to bring
With their happy yellow mellow
To this city in lurch.
Now the bus station is filling up
Overflowing human cup
Fragile, fat folks
All wearing worry at 7:49 a.m.
Smooth skinned Goodwill granny
Grabs an inhaler
Snaps in quick breath,
And, as if it has impaled her,
Coughs out into a worn dishrag:
Woman from Michigan
Complaining loudly about men
Men who grab each others’ butts.
“This ain’t no town for me!”
Shane pricks up his ears
“No lie, “ he replies
“Whole town’s gone nuts…”
Michigan’s found her audience
“No gays where I come from!”
Dried blood thickening,
“No work, just gays,”
Michigan has too much baggage, too much weight
Funny, the overwhelmed gay bus man behind the
Greyhound counter, ready to pound her, states:
“You need to repack!”
Michigan rolls her eyes,
Gives me a wink.
That thumbprint blue tattoo
A hint, a clue
Whoever put it next to her eye:
Michigan reaches rudely past
Pale Blonde Young Mom
“I need my pop!”
Guzzles fizzling crackling sizzling
Surrounds us with her unpacked stuff—
“Man”, someone shudders, “Enough!”
Pale Blonde Young Mom’s tiny Toddler
Shoulder wrapped in an angry red
Birthmark sarong where
Shoulder’s twin on eyelid
Oblivious little bluebell
Growing under mama’s care.
There…do you hear it?
The slow, thrumming hum…?
Toddler runs to catch the sound
Only she and I feel there.
“First piece, free…Second piece, ten.
Bus man is on hysterics ledge
Voice stretches out
Thinning like his hair
A rubberband man, no doubt
On the verge of snapping.
I sense his urge to be slapping
Every single one of us
Boarding this never ending bus.
Day after day
Deal after deal
Too many questions.
Michigan shouts at PBYM,
“I hate the way they treat us homeless—and lemme tell ya,
Alamosa was the PITS.
If you didn’t prove, you lose…out in the snow,
14,000 feet up!,
Out in the snow you’d go.
Kickin’ ya out…a bust!
You’d end up in jail…”
PBYM replies (emotion in her eyes),
“At least it’s warm in there…”
“Blah blah blah Sherika
Blah blah blah she was a liar!!!
Blah blah blah…”
PBYM, still hopeful, not boastful,
“I took in homeless teens. At first, just two…
But, then others found out, they knew.
They’d knock at my door
Ask to sleep on my floor…”
“Didn’t they get you in trouble!?”
“Oh, no, they cleaned my house!
Took care of the baby…helped me out
I’m looking down at my knees
Scribbling in my pad
Hoping Michigan doesn’t notice, doesn’t
Grab words outta my lap. Slap!
I drift back into Michigan…
She’s into history, again.
She’s imitating some person from her past,
Wringing at wrongness of PBYM’s kind choice.
“Say it, Pat!”
“Say it, Pat!”
“‘Scuse me, Pat—say it, “I’m sorry…”
No, you’re not!…You can’t
help minors out…It looks funky
and funny…cuz that’s what happened
So…that’s why I’m headed home to the cow farm!”
(I’m completely disarmed at this point.
Blood and cows,
and no one knows how
To get from A to B
With bags stuffed breaking apart from so much
Hum…hum….thrumming hum drum…
Collegiate chinese female wears a
Fringed multi-colored silk wrap
Stone flattened smooth grace
She patiently explains her bag situation
To frazzled bus man’s mental map—
Emphasizing his answers to her,
Like she… doesn’t…understand… English…
There’s no ability for him to live
We are sardines
(Yes, my implication is what I mean.)
A broken man with a broken arm
Navy blue sling
Rusty safari hat; long, loose string
He’s a tan white man, sagging
in his jeans.
Even older, a twin of my father, sits next to me—
Trimmed white goatee singing on his tar black chin.
Bald head shining
Wires from his ears, ringing:
Just the facts.
No need to say much to the mystery
Reaching out. Touch.
Michigan circles ’round the room
Searching out other Michigoans…
Bathing suit on under potted flower pot
Symbolled shirt of plants never growing.
She’s a weed whacker!
Hair bleached like an albino whale
Her face rosy from the alcohol…
So much sorrow in this room.
No bus is showing
Everyone…anxious to be going.
Sirens in a tunnel
The fog is gone
Still no sun.
Hip hops under her
Fuzzy monkey back pack
Salmon pink drink
Flowered nipple top
Her pudgy hands hold on to
Everything, can’t stop!
Only one here
She looks at Toddler and offers:
“I had a two year old lab once.
He was abused.”
Pretty Young Blonde Mom is not amused
Moves closer to the door.
Now she’s looking, she’s concerned:
“Where’s the bus…?” she mutters
Sputters for all who shudder
Slow shuffled waiting
Waltzing across hard linoleum floors:
What if it doesn’t come…?
Scurries back to homeplate—s-l-i-d-e-s
To mama’s knees—
Finally, we’re all aboard.
Taut strings hold things
In place above the roar.
Guitar with stickers worn:
Crazy mama! Bugle Boy!
Mucky Duck! Dickie Bird!
Absurd, absurd, absurd
All chanting above my head.
46 years of living
What have I learned this morning that
I haven’t learned before?
Just that, once again,
You just never know
What life will bring.
And what’s behind the breeze
Holding conversations with those trees?
The bus is speeding on.
What shifts my weight
From this to that?
Where is our universal answer
Asked over and over
Since time began
By every single one of us
At some point, here on this bus
Well, it’s not here today.
It just is this:
Live life’s quick kiss
And search the unspoken thrum.
Listen. Write it down. And hum to yourself, every step
of the way.
TO SUPPORT BADGERDOG and buy an edition of the Summer 2009 anthology,
tee-shirts, or become an active donor, please visit: http://www.badgerdog.org