A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.
Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.
Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.
Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.
The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.
Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?
A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket …
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.
The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.
I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.
Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.
~Jane Kenyon, “Three Songs at the End of Summer” from Collected Poems.
The first day back to school isn’t always the day after Labor Day as it was when I was growing up. Some students have been in classes for a couple weeks now, others started a few days ago to ease into the transition more gently, especially adjusting to classrooms and masking after a year of remote learning for so many. Some will be return to the routine tomorrow: school buses will roar past our farm brimming with young faces under fresh masks, new clothes and shoes, stuffed back packs amid a fair amount of dread and anxiety.
I remember well that foreboding that accompanied a return to school — the strict schedule, the inflexible rules and the painful reconfiguration of social hierarchies and friend groups. Even as a good learner and obedient student, I was a square peg being pushed into a round hole when I returned to the classroom; the students who struggled academically and who pushed against the boundaries of rules must have felt even more so. We all felt alien and inadequate to the immense task before us to fit in with one another, allow teachers to open our minds to new thoughts, and to become something and someone more than who we were before.
Growth is so very hard, our stretching so painful, the tug and pull of potential friendships stressful. Two of my own children now make this annual transition to a new school year as veteran teachers.
For the first time in over thirty years, I won’t have yet another “first day” or new students under my care — it all feels new and unfamiliar yet again.
So I take a deep breath on this foggy Labor Day morning and am immediately taken back to the anxieties and fears of a skinny little girl in a new home-made corduroy jumper and saddle shoes, waiting for the schoolbus on a drippy wooded country road.
She is still me — just buried deeply in the fog of who I became after all those years of schooling, hidden somewhere under all the piled-on layers of learning and growing and hurting and stretching — but I do remember her well.
Like every student starting a new adventure tomorrow,
she could use a hug.
More like this is found in photos and words in this book from Barnstorming, available to order here: