I must tell you about the children. (This has been a rather long time coming.) Since January—and the move to Sacramento—I have spent my afternoons working for an after-school program at a K-8 Title I school about fifteen minutes north of downtown. There are just over 100 kids in the program. My group consists of twenty: eighteen in the fifth and sixth grades and two in eighth.
Every day is a goddamn tragedy. And every day is just another day in the hours after class, at work. It's all very real: cafeteria, blacktop, binders, attendance. The crises are so insistent that one takes them for granted. As one teacher at the school casually told me one afternoon, most of these kids have experienced some form of overt trauma in their lives. Manic responses to even the smallest critiques are the norm. Yes, it is childhood, but it is also 2017, and the world is more full of people than ever, and it's getting hotter, and why hasn't the technology saved my soul yet? There is anger and hunger and love and joy, and it all contradicts itself. I wish I could do justice by the trauma and heal every family with a few good words. (I look to the poets for guidance.)
INTERLUDE: As I scratch notes for this letter into a pocket-size notepad, a third-grader on time-out comes and asks me: "What does it say?" I tell him it's a reminder for me. "It's not about us?" he asks. "Well, no," I answer, "just for me to think about." He laughs, saying with the surprise and clarity of which only children are capable: "Oh! I thought it was something important." Which is exactly the reminder I needed. END INTERLUDE.
My co-workers are good people. They talk about advertisements like they're real life and not money-mirrors, which confuses me sometimes. (Maybe advertisements are real life and I'm in denial.) On the whole, they are good at acting unconcerned. I say "acting" because I must believe that it is not complacency which keeps them so calm, but a very well-contained hysteria, a highly-polished dialogue that can be (and is) effected anytime, anywhere. I do wonder if there's anything so musical as gossip. In the deep silence of solitary composition, the words can be more like stones than sound. Perhaps a poet is a melodramatic mason...
Anyhow, something—a set of things—happened the other day that filled me with a pure sense of beauty, indescribably light, a feeling simultaneously within and beyond purpose. It was the first time in four months of seeing the same kids five days a week that I felt the great honor of knowing them. And this feeling came to pass in shape and color.
The plan had been to show a movie. (Sometimes we all stop pretending that there is a lesson plan to which we adhere and just bring the kids into the cafeteria, put a movie on the projector, and threaten to take their phones away if they don't pay attention. Personally, I don't know why the movies never appeal to the kids enough to keep them from chasing and harassing one another. There's no one left to blame. Even the most seemingly unhinged parents are proud when you lie and say their kid didn't act out that day or get in a fight. Maybe it's not a lie. Maybe I'm in the business of complete and total forgiveness at the turn of every single moment.)
INTERLUDE: There's a lot of pretending involved in the work of large organizations, for better and worse. I've surmised that the larger—and more profitable—an organization, the more pretending everyone does. This is just a theory. But I wonder if this kind of profit-minded pretense has anything to do with the fact that work centered around money is—like money itself—dangerously vacuous. The void lends itself to speculation more wild than wilderness. Why must we use money as an excuse to make-believe? END INTERLUDE.
When the projector couldn't be located, one of my co-workers set-up "stations"—different activities at different rows of tables. There were laptops, beads and pipe cleaners, water colors and paper plates, and building blocks. I assumed that my sixth graders would rebel against the whole setup—as is their wont—and treat me like Pontius Pilate when I came over to ask them to at least keep their voices down if they weren't going to participate. But I know nothing. They sat down at the water color station and asked me for paper plates. Baffled, I passed them out, and watched as they started mixing colors.
Some were devoutly geometric, tracing the contours of the plate with bold colors. Others immediately drew landscapes or figures. One shook the brush, speckling the plate with a constellation of colors. Another tilted the plate, letting the colors gently wash into each other. A sixth grade boy who may or may not be able to read had rendered a blue-green planet immersed in midnight purple sky. "Mr. Joe," he asked, "what color is Venus?" We decided it was yellow with an orange aura. I wandered among the artists, marveling openly at how good this or that looked.
In the meantime, two of my fifth grade girls were using the building blocks. After twenty minutes, they had constructed a house and a pool and an amphitheater (pictured at top) and a picnic table. "What's that in the middle of the park?" I asked. "It's like a special area," one said, "you know—maybe where the man proposes to the woman."
In shape and color we come to exist. With no more than these we can attest to our very deepest ideas and experiences. There certainly is much to worry about: an immortal violence churns under the surface of all that we produce and consume: foods, jobs, medicines, buildings, books. Left unchecked—unacknowledged—this violence can direct our every gesture, and I worry about addressing the disturbances in myself. But the worries that underscore the difficulty of living dissolve in nothing so readily as they do in the affirming gaze or speech of another human.
The "pure sense of beauty" I experienced with the kids did not set a new course towards bright futures for all. The subsequent days were as tragic as ever, with family and developmental dramas on full display, and my own insecurities perhaps more powerful than before. But the beauty happened, and I got to be there, and that is enough.
Thank you for seeing and hearing. Thank you for coming to know THE LUNE and its poets. Here are recent developments by said poets, of which we are glad:
• Very pleased to announce the audio-visual appearance of four of W. Scott Howard's sonictexts from SPINNAKERS in Talisman #45;
• Keep a deep eye out for a stunning new edition of Olga Broumas and T Begley's Sappho's Gymnasium from the remarkable Nightboat Books;
• The visionary j/j hastain has released the long-term, polyphonic, transcendental Priest/ess 1-3 via Spuyten Duyvil;
• Online, we're honored to have recently shared new poems by Yuan Changming, Jacklyn Janeksela, Brice Maiurro, and Colin James, as well as the scholarly portraiture of Theodore Sabo. We're excited to share four wonderful new pieces by Tim Kahl as spring turns into summer, as well as a host of new poems by humans from all over the world; and
• We continue to look forward to our Summer 2017 issue featuring the poets Laura Chalar,Ginger Teppner, and Alicia Cahalane Lewis. Their three collections convene where sound meets memory, and the result is moving.
Yours in the flung open gate,
Editor & Publisher