Monday, August 19, 2019

A Nancy Drew Poem for a Week of School Beginnings

In my county, students started school last Wednesday; this week will be their first full week of school.  By the end of this week, all students in the tri county area will be back in school.

I know that there are still some schools up north who start after Labor Day.  They probably have Columbus Day off too.

Yesterday in church, our pastor said it was the last Sunday in Summer.  He caught himself mid-declaration and said, "Yes, it's the last Sunday in the Summer.  Because I declare it to be so."  And then he explained that once the public schools start again, summer is effectively over.

I agree.  We have another month until the equinox which will launch us into a new season, and for some of us, we might switch wardrobes at Labor Day--although to be honest, I don't know of anyone who doesn't wear white after the first Monday in September.  Many of us still have a month or more of summer heat and humidity.  But essentially, summer is over.

The back to school stories that surround us take me back to my writing process as I created a poem about Nancy Drew in her retirement.  Nancy Drew wouldn't be teaching college. She'd have had a teacher's certificate from pre-feminist days. And they'd let her teach the kids that were headed to juvenile jails and drop out land--who cares about those kids?

I thought about a friend's experience teaching those kinds of kids. She was allowed to do basically whatever she wanted, to abandon textbooks and to teach whatever came to her, so long as she kept the kids from hurting each other or the other children in the school.

I thought about Nancy Drew's friends, Bess and George--what happened to them? Could they help Nancy Drew solve the mystery of how to reach these students?

Of course! Bess has started a bakeshop and this generation of students, raised on cooking shows, eat up what she has to offer in the way of old-fashioned home-ec. George, the tomboy, has gone on to become a marine biologist, so she leads field trips into various ecosystems.

Here's the poem, which appeared in my third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  If you want an autographed copy of the chapbook, I'll give you a back-to-school discount between now and the Tuesday after Labor Day:  $10 per copy.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Pre-Drop Outs

Nancy Drew decides she needs new
mysteries to solve, so she returns
to school, to mold young minds.

Long ago, in between cracking cases
involving diaries or letters or maps and solving
secrets in attics and towers, she got a teaching
certificate, as ambitious women did in those days.
Now she calls the school board to see
how she might be of use.

Her credentials, old and out of date,
don't prevent her from taking charge
of the most hopeless classrooms,
the students on a layover
on their journey to juvenile court.

Given tattered textbooks and worksheets without
answer keys, Nancy Drew adopts
a different approach. As always, she calls
on her friends.

Bess runs a bakeshop, so she teaches
the students to cook, a retro home-ec
approach. Nancy Drew's feminist critics
would not approve, but this generation
of students, raised on cooking shows, responds
with rare enthusiasm.

Nancy Drew believes in fresh air and sunshine,
so she recruits her friend George, a marine
biologist, for ideas. George leads
field trips to various ecosystems:
swamp walks and snorkeling and soon
some of the students are ready
for college-track science classes.

These clues to a better future don't prevent
some of her students from sneaking
away to explore more ancient secrets.
She tries to keep them focused on the future,
but she remembers Ned Nickerson
and those cars now considered classics.

She thinks of Ned in the roadster,
and later, her love confined to the hospital bed,
immune from rescue, unable to hear
her whispered pleas.

She kisses the old locket always worn
around her neck and writes the day's lesson
plan on the white board. At the end
of the day, she erases the smeared
lines from the board to leave a blank
space to be filled again in the morning.

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