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"Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders"

Gary Short
poet, teacher, Nevada author

At recess a boy ran to me
with a pink rubber ball and asked
if I would kick it to him. He handed me the ball,
then turned and ran
and ran and ran, not turning back
until he was far out in the field.
I wasn't sure I could kick the ball
that far. But I tried,
launching a perfect and lucky kick.
The ball sailed in a beautiful arc
about eight stories high,
landed within a few feet of the 3rd grader
and took a big bounce off the hard playground dirt.
Pleased, I turned to enter the school building.
And then (I don't know where they came from
so quickly) I heard a rumbling behind me
full tilt. They were carrying pink balls and yellow balls
of different sizes, black and white checkered
soccer balls. They wanted me to kick for them.
And now this is a ritual—this is how we spend recess.
They stand in line, hand me the ball and run.
The balls rise like planets
and the 3rd graders
circle dizzily beneath the falling sky,
their arms outstretched.


In class the kids are making similes and I write them
on the board as they call out—
A river swishing like a cat's tail.
Smooth as a window, quiet as pain.
The rain clattering like a spilled jar of marbles.

Then a wave of laughter sweeps the room.
In my new shoes I must have shuffled
across the school carpet rife with static.
My hair is standing straight up
as if I'm a shocked cartoon character
or a scared and cornered cat.
When I write on the chalkboard,
blue sparks fly from my hand
to the metal strip that frames the green.
Everything I touch crackles.
When I help a student at her desk,
a yellow four-inch arc of lightning streaks
from my hand to hers, shocking the pencil from her grip.
The students watch amazed. "Pick up the pencil!" I say,
"Don't be afraid."


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"Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders" was published in Gary Short's collection titled 10 Moons and 13 Horses. He has been a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and a Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Short has taught at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and at Old Dominion University in Virginia. He currently divides his time between Virginia City, Nevada, and Panajachel, Guatemala.

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