Teacher, Teacher

Didactic by day, the ovenbird sings
another, more evocative melody just before dawn.

It sings about leaves that kept opening in the darkness
& the horizon drawing tight around the cabin.

The schoolmarm had been dreaming of other people’s children,
& woke with a head full of mucous & a pounding headache.

Her brother had taken the team to the back field,
left the sow to turn the garden with its snout.

She grabbed the ax and went to win back the sky:
girdling trees, he’d smirked, is no work for a man.

The rain came. A thrush started singing
from a branch that had yet to get the news of its death.

She circled a basswood,
fitting it with a bright new corset.

__________

It probably helps to know that “Teacher, teacher” is the usual onomatopoeic rendering of the ovenbird’s daytime call.

12 Comments


  1. I agree with Angie! The poem ends with a vivid image which has an appropriately female context.

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  2. What a good poem, Dave. The imagery is startling. I don’t know the ovenbird so thanks for the description of the sound it makes.

    Each line of the couplets is nice and tight, very economical– nothing wasted here.

    (Thanks for visiting my blog. Looking forward to exploring your work.)

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  3. I’m not familiar with US birds, so your explanation was helpful, but I enjoyed your poem, and the rest of your blog

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  4. Many interconnected themes tightly, beauftifully woven around the connotations of “ovenbird” and “teacher” — femaleness, domesticity, sky, land, pain, childhood, death. Openings and closings, night and day, nature and culture. Maybe I’m trying to claim too wide a horizon, but I see it all in these 14 lines.

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  5. Larry – Thanks!

    January – I’m glad you liked it, and hope you enjoyed your look around, too.

    Catherine – Yes, I should’ve put that explanatory note in when I first published. Thanks for visiting.

    Richard – Thanks for the close reading. That’s pretty much what I got out of it, too, as I worked over it yesterday. When we open one thing, we close something else.

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  6. It sings good.

    I especially liked “she grabbed the ax and went to win back the sky.”

    There’s a She that oughtn’t be crossed.

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  7. I’d prefer “seized,” maybe – I sense more of a frenzy in her than just “grabbed” implies – and I really liked this poem. Especially the circles drawing tightly: the horizon, migraine, the corseted trees. You packed a lot into it and not a word seems too much, or out of place. A keeper.

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  8. Thanks, Teju and Beth. I guess I went with “grabbed” becasue of the assonance with “ax,” but “seized” might be better. For that matter, I’m not at all sure why I didn’t write “axe.” I was in an unusual mood when I wrote this, sated with sleep.

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  9. Did you know of the Frost “Ovenbird” poem?

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