Friday, January 25, 2019

Poetry Friday: In My Classroom

Once again this year I am taking and posting a daily photo, and today's prompt on CY365 is "Prism." I was trying to think of something for that prompt, and decided to look in one of my classroom dictionaries. That resulted in this photo and this haiku:
Colors of living
Tamed for classroom consumption
Black and white rainbow

This week in that same classroom, I read the following poem with my eighth graders. Aurora Levins Morales comes from Puerto Rico, where they grow sugar cane, just like here in Haiti. This poem is in my ancient classroom anthologies, already lining the walls when I first inherited this classroom about 14 years ago. I have always loved it for the way it plays with the metaphor of sugar. It's not just harmless, uncomplicated sweetness.

Sugar Poem
by Aurora Levins Morales

is something refined
in your vocabulary,
taking its place at the table
in a silver bowl: essence
of culture.

I come from the earth
where the cane was grown.
I know
the knobbed rooting,
green spears, heights of 
against the sky,
purple plumed.
I know the backache
of the machetero,
the arc of steel
cutting, cutting,
the rhythm of harvest
leaving acres of sharp spies
that wound the feet - 
and the sweet smoke
of the llaramada:
rings of red fire burning
dark sugar into the wind.

My poems grow from the ground.
I know what they are made of:
heavy, raw and green.

you say, is sweet.
One teaspoon in a cup of coffee...
life's not so bad.

Caña, I reply,
yields many things:
for the horses,
rum for the tiredness
of the machetero,
alcohol to cleans,
distil, to burn
as fuel.

I don't write my poems
for anybody's sweet tooth.

My poems are acetylene torches
welding steel.
My poems are flamethrowers
cutting paths through the world.
My poems are bamboo spears
opening the air.
They come from the earth,
common and brown.

I talked a little bit with the eighth graders about the history of sugar cane in this country, and the plantations that required slave labor to run. Slaves here - and in other nations where cane is grown - didn't live very long, because the work was exhausting and dangerous. One of the kids commented that everything nice has a price. Sometimes we do touch on real life in the classroom, after all.

(By the way, here's an article about one of the main things sugar cane is used for in Haiti, rum, and specifically the kind called clairin.)

Today's roundup is here.


Irene Latham said...

I love this poem. No, sugar is not all sweet. Nothing is, is it? And would we really want it to be? Lots to ponder here. And yay for you continuing your daily photography practice! xo

Tara said...

Wise poem, and wise comments from your student, Ruth.

Jone said...

I love the photo and haiku. And sugar as a metaphor, what a poem.

Christie Wyman said...

As Irene already said, sugar is not all sweet. While visiting and working in Uganda eight years ago, I was able to see first hand the powerful and none-too-sweet role sugar cane plays in a society -- the growing of it, the harvesting of it, the trading of it. Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts with us.

Kimberly Hutmacher said...

I've never read a poem that compares poetry to sugar. Your poem is so poignant. Thanks for sharing.

Tabatha said...

I especially like that last stanza.
You could turn that student's comment into an essay exam: "Everything nice has a price. Do you agree? Explain."

Michelle Kogan said...

What a rich and different view of sugar, and that last stanza sure is strong. I like your "Black and white rainbow" too, thanks Ruth.

Mary Lee said...

That poem is a treasure! I can imagine the rich conversations it spurred.

I'm thinking about your haiku and wondering if in some ways the sugar poem does the same thing...

jama said...

Love the photo/haiku and sugar cane poem. Love to see an extended metaphor like that so artfully crafted. The poem made me think about growing up in Hawaii, and how the sugar plantations attracted immigrants from many countries to work on them.

Kay said...

I love this powerful poem. It's one I will think about and come back to. Yes, everything nice does have a price. Are we willing to confront it and acknowledge those who have paid the price for us.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Wow wow wow.That is a voice I want to hear more of, and I must say I'm surprised to hear that that poem has been around a good while for your students to seems new and modern and fresh and daring. The rays of light in the prism photo look something like the spies of cut cane...