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Open Letter to My Students

David Crews

How do you know 

I am fit to be your teacher?  What I mean is

how will you know what kind of person

I am and how long will it take you

to figure out?  A couple of hours,

some days, a month.  I’ve known people

my whole life who still feel like 

strangers to me. What is it you need?


I turned forty this year

and can finally touch the meaning

of love, using those words, those words

that so often feel slippery and strange.

And I am haunted by time.

If this is the midway point 

then everything’s closing in, collapsing

on itself like a lone black hole

at the edge of a universe—I say

a universe because there are things 

we just don’t know (there is so much

I do not know).


Once, my first year teaching

a senior in my class called me a fucking

asshole when he failed 

for the second straight term

even though by November

he strolled through the doorway each day

without a notebook, even though 

he cared less about his well-being 

than I did.  I said to him, Well 

you should have considered that 

two months ago (and it was

the first time I can remember

sounding like an adult).

Turns out, he was just angry

almost fought me that year

after he threw a chair across the office

and so they moved him to a new class.


Don’t let them tell you

the data they have means you will be

successful. No one will ever care

about your SAT scores

more than you did 

the day you took them. 

The world I know of 

is filled with heartbreak and dirt 

under your nails, and there is 

a high probability you will one day

find yourself clawing at the earth

for someone to hear you

because we all have a need 

to be loved.


And those times 

when you feel as though you’re screaming

into the void, forget

you know where a gun is. Stop looking

at the perfect people inside the screen. 

Don’t think there is anything sharp enough

to dig the pain out of your skin

(scars will remind you of this).

I wish

these poems were enough. These poems

that are the things we do 

in the dark, on a clear midnight—

away from books, away from art,

building with these words a house

around this house that can fill us

with a gratitude if we let them.


What can I really say here

that will make you feel

deep in your hearts that you are loved

that there is beauty 

all around us

like the wandering thrush perched 

in the pin oak, like the sky in the sky 

behind it, like being with you now—

how we will never have this moment

again, how these words will return us 

whether we like it or not

back to the body 

that whether we like or not

one day will turn to dust.



*poem includes slightly adapted lines / allusions to June Jordan’s “These Poems,” 

Walt Whitman’s “A Clear Midnight,” Cornelius Eady’s “Gratitude.”


David Crews ( is author of Wander-Thrush: Lyric Essays of the Adirondacks (Ra Press, 2018) and High Peaks (Ra Press, 2015)—poems that catalog his hiking of the “Adirondack 46ers” in upstate New York. He serves as artist-in-residence with the nonprofit ARTS By The People, as well as a contributing writer for the Northeast Wilderness Trust. His most recent work, “On Wilderness: Rethinking Climate Crisis,” can be found online in The HOPPER.

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