I’ve come back to ACJ. I taught three semesters and then left. I busied with post-MFA life—multiple jobs, attempting to craft at night, etc. About six months out of the Words Without Walls program, I started to feel disconnected. I didn’t miss poetry. I didn’t miss a classroom. I still, in various realms, had these things. What I missed was sitting in a circle with strong, kind men and women who need this art. Human beings who take a pencil to paper and know each word they craft is a step to recovery, to re-purposing the story they’ve already fallen into.
What I miss doesn’t compare to what they miss. This month my student walked into the classroom saying he had a terrible week. When asked why, he answered, my mother died. No matter what I teach about the necessity of words, there is nothing to fill this moment.
Still, he comes each week. He is consistently one of the most engaged and dedicated writers. When we tell him it might be too soon he responds I need to get this out. He is brave in a way that embarrasses my own writing.
Two weeks ago a new student joined my class. He is stoic and tall. He looks like a baseball player, the kind who would tuck a mitt into his back pocket and all the girls would watch. His first class he doesn’t talk. When he comes back the following week, he places his notebook in my hands. Half is full. He spends the final hour of class telling me of helping his dying friend in jail, carrying him from cell to cell. He describes the smell of decay, asks, can I write from the perspective of these walls? He leans in close, nervously flips his notebook pages. I think not only of what these men and women miss, but what we miss about these men and women. What we forget. What we never see. He towers over me and his eyes are eager, alive, as he whispers, I’ve had a gun pointed at me. I’m not afraid. I can talk my way out of it. But writing these poems, I’m scared. I’m more scared than a gun right at my chest. I haven’t felt vulnerable in a long time and I can’t stop wanting this feeling now. I can’t stop writing.
Alison Taverna, teacher