New for 2004

The Book of Poems

By Richard McCord

A teacher in a Santa Fe elementary school received a little book of poems in her mail one day. Sent to her home, the book was not issued by a large—-or even a small—-publishing company. Instead it was one of a kind, handmade. The six-inch-tall, four-inch-wide cover was made of blue construction paper. The dozen white pages inside were cut from a loose-leaf notebook. The 12 short poems in the book had been written and illustrated in small, neat pencil strokes, by one of the teacher’s former pupils, a girl who will be called Rachel in this story.


School means work
and friends
quiet hours
sitting at your desk
listening to the rustle
of papers.

That’s school

Yet when Rachel first came into the teacher’s class, school had meant none of those things. The little girl and the teacher entered each others’ lives when Rachel was a fourth-grader—-a fourth-grader with problems. Partly deaf since early childhood, Rachel could by then follow what was going on in class through the use of a strong hearing aid, which brought sounds up to a nearly normal range. But the years she had spent in the hushed world that she had known had left her reclusive, withdrawn. In addition, Rachel stood out from the other fourth-graders because she was tall and skinny, and could not catch a ball on the playground. She was the only child in the class who had red hair.


Colors are dynanism;
brightening the world’s surface,
cheering a sad person.

Rachel was a very bright child, however, and early in her life she had found refuge in books. In the tales they told she could do almost anything. In books she had dozens of friends. In books she had no handicaps. At school Rachel liked to turn off her hearing aid and sit quietly in the back of the room, escaping into the realm of books while her classmates did other things. When she read she was happy. But when a teacher tried to pull her back into the classroom, she was not happy at all.

Then she would fly into a rage, venting such fury that the other kids would stop whatever they were doing, and stare at her with open mouths. After Rachel’s outbursts, a long time would pass before the class settled down again. And so, most of her teachers had just left her alone to read. At least then she was not holding back everyone else.


What if you had your own way
Every day?
What would you say?
I’d sail
on a whale
and go to a garage sale.
Listen to an owl
imitate a wolf’s howl
at Lake Powell.
And chase a goon
up to the moon
to never go to a lagoon!

Rachel’s reputation had preceded her into the fourth grade. Both the teacher and her principal were worried about the effect she might have on the class. There was talk of taking her out of the regular schools and placing her in a small Behavioral Disorder class, for violent and disruptive children. But Rachel’s parents begged the teacher not to give up on their daughter. They wanted her to have a normal childhood, and they vowed to do anything they could do to help. They were determined not to fail, no matter what it took.


A tree is wisdom.
They stand for centuries.
They know everything,
they quietly watch
and learn and learn.
They will never tell what they know;
 which is lots.

So the teacher decided to do her best with Rachel. When she saw the little girl slipping away into one of her books, she made her cme back into the lesson at hand. Rachel was willful and stubborn. Rachel would scream and shout “I won’t do this!” Rachel would hurl her books off her desk. She would fly out of control three or four times a week. But the teacher was patient. No matter how many times Rachel exploded, the teacher would wait her out, and let her know she was not going to get away with it. Yet Rachel had always gotten away with it before. Rachel did not like what was happening, did not like it at all.


Eagle fly,
Eagle soar.
eagle fly . .

After about two months the outbursts became less frequent. Then Rachel slowly began to take part in the class. She showed signs of motivation, started acting like an ordinary, interested student. Or maybe more than ordinary, for she had read so much that there was hardly any subject to which she could not contribute a great deal.


Slowly opening,
They give beautiful colors.
Roses are divine.

Yet the other children did not know what to make of the changes in Rachel. Her tantrums had made them frightened of her. They kept their distance, and thought she was weird. They looked at her in a funny way. She had no friends.


Little fish, little fish,
come out of the reeds
on the stream’s side,
and play with me.

The teacher tried to figure out what to do. She asked several of the children if they would try to include Rachel in their games. They said no, they wouldn’t. She arranged for the class to have a demonstration of how a hearing aid works. The kids were fascinated. She talked with two girls who seemed more understanding than some of their classmates, and asked them to make an extra effort to make friends with Rachel. They said they would try, and they did.


The robins are out,
Pulling worms from the damp ground.
Spring is humorous.

The rest of Rachel’s fourth-grade class got better all the time. The two girls who went to her aid found that they really liked her, that she was fun to be around. Then other children began learning the same thing. Her enthusiasm for all the things she was learning in class grew week by week. As the school year drew to a close, the teacher decided to make a change in her own plans. Instead of leading another fourth-grade class the next year, she would, like her pupils, advance to the fifth grade. She made sure Rachel would be in her class.


The unicorn,
so graceful,
leaping across meadows,
playing by starlite,
stopping only
to touch noses
with a woodland creature.
Dawn pierces the sky,
the unicorn goes to
rest on soft clouds.

The second year that Rachel was in the teacher’s class was wonderful for them both. Rachel excelled in everything she did. She had better friendships than ever before in her life. She went on all the class field trips. Her schoolwork was above and beyond what was assigned, with very few mistakes. Best of all was her creative writing, and she always illustrated the stories she wrote. At the end of that year, the teacher was sure Rachel was the smartest student she had ever taught.


An eagle is courage.
An eagle is glory.
An eagle is freedom.
An eagle is strength.
An eagle is wildness.
An eagle is boldness.
An eagle is a symbol.
An eagle is few.
And they are beautiful.

Sixth grade was the last one Rachel spent at the teacher’s school, before moving on to junior high. Rachel was not in the teacher’s class that year, so they did not see each other very often. They would sometimes chat on the playground during recess and lunch, and they still cared for one another. But Rachel had many other things on her mind: new classes, old and new friends, perhaps even a boy or two. On the last day of school, the teacher looked for Rachel to say goodbye. The moment was emotional, but no more so than other moments had been with other students. Rachel was looking ahead, to things to come.


Arroyos are magical places.
Everywhere you look
A magical animal darts away.
Everywhere you go\
Magic awaits you.

Another autumn came, but Rachel was no longer at the teacher’s school. She was off somewhere else, being a seventh-grader—-and a very pretty one, at that. The teacher wondered about her from time to time, and so called her parents to ask. They were pleased to hear from the teacher, and had nothing but good news to report. Rachel was thriving in junior high. They were sure she was going to do just fine. Cheered by the news, the teacher promised to stay in touch. But her life and her work, as always, got very busy. There were new pressures, new situations, new children whose needs she must meet.

Then one day a little book of poems arrived in the mail.


A teacher is a friend
who helps you learn
math, English, social studies,
science, reading and fun
A teacher is like another parent,
so caring,
and makes sure
you do your
and get it right
so you’ll have
no troubles as you
grow up,
to maybe
be a teacher

To order Richard McCord's book "The Other State: New Mexico, USA," just out in paperback, visit .

Other Articles by Richard McCord

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