Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
- Brad Aaron Modlin
Special thanks to Toni Goodman, who read this poem to us in her Poetry Circle, years ago, and to Martha Mattus, who sent me an email just a few hours ago, reminding me of it.
Today would be my mother's birthday, and I'm very grateful for the kinds of things that I learned from her, such as her persistent stubbornness and her ever-present, unapologetic laughter.