``The Truth''

IF I claimed that this has happened to everyone - every person young or old who is reading these words - I don't think I'd be too far from the truth. Trouble, or more specifically, getting in trouble in school. And before I can finish this sentence, I'll bet you are revisiting that particular classroom: remembering the day, the teacher's voice, the tightness in your throat, as you review your personal moment of childhood infamy. No matter if the offense was minor or severe, I'm sure it has been vastly enlarged in the echo-chamber of memory. Besides school-aged students, I've taught writing workshops with adults and senior citizens, and I've learned how quickly we are able to recapture those crucial moments - wonderful or terrible - when some event managed to touch on the private territory of the spirit. I've watched seniors skip back 80 years in one agile leap of the mind to remember standing at attention in that third-grade class, the muffled sound of laughter behind their backs. And judging from their poems, you'd have guessed the feelings were only hours old.

Young people find it hard to imagine mom or dad or teacher as a third grader, ill at ease in the classroom. But they too were students once and made the same sorts of mistakes as they grew. Simple as it is, to me this is the most essential of realizations: that we are all humans learning from other humans, and that our humanity - our personal response to the challenges of living - is perhaps the most essential lesson we'll communicate.

Here is a poem about one boy's trouble. It was over a year ago that I visited his classroom and witnessed his painful moment. Yet I wrote no poem, no word about the incident ... until a recent afternoon, browsing in a bookstore. I glanced at a new title that contained the words ``The Truth'' printed in bold. And for some reason, that triggered a memory of the classroom, the teacher's scolding voice, and my own unspoken responses.

The poet's job is to examine such moments so that we both can come in close - to experience the full impact - and take a step back in order to see its meaning in some larger perspective. And suddenly, something inside the poem, something inside our lives, feels surprisingly focused, vital, and true.

And what is the truth here in this poem? It is clear that the boy's truth and the teacher's, the class' truth and the poet's, hardly coincide. maybe there is even another truth that encompasses all these and more. As you imagine yourself in the classroom, where do you find your own inkling of the truth?

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