I recently resigned after 21 years of teaching high school in the New York City public school system ("I hereby resign, effective September 1, 2007," read the entirety of my letter, which the assistant principal tried to reject on the grounds that it wasn't long enough to be a letter). I walked away from a contract that would have paid me $100,000 per year. I wasn't old enough for a pension, but it was time to do other things. I waited before taking another job, deciding instead to take a financial hit, maintain COBRA health insurance, complete a book I'd started, travel and teach some workshops, while luxuriating in feelings of playing hooky. In the spring I accepted a one-year post as a Poet-In-Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma. I don't know what's next, but this fellowship couldn't have come at a better time. I'll use it for rent, health care, food, and time to write. (Few people outside of writers would find these things exciting.)
When I got the call from Dana Gioia, he said the NEA means a lot more than money, and I agree. I don't know if it will open doors for me, but this award, from a distinguished panel of judges, to whom I'm deeply grateful, is also from my country.
A ring of children seated Indian style,
a girl deciding which head to tap
as she orbits them in her pretty dress
saying Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck.
Every boy wants to be the goose,
to bolt up and run down this girl
before she makes it around
to the spot he vacated. Once
they saw her trip and fall, exposing
a lovely backside covered in lace.
Maybe that is why their heads rise
like charmed snakes as she passes
saying Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck,
annoying the girls in the circle, who frown,
and attracting now the attention
of their teacher, leaning against a tree,
bringing her gaze down from the clouds
where she had been pondering two men?
the one she recently broke up with
filling her with regret about the much
better, more beautiful one from college.
Now she is twenty-nine, on perhaps
the last warm day of September,
the smartest, prettiest girl in the class
is going Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck
in an endless left hand turn,
and she can?t figure out whether
the girl is powerful or helpless,
as she blinks back tears and blows
the whistle to end this.