Open Letter to My Students
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).
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 (davidcrewspoetry.com) 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.