My Eighteen-Month-Old Daughter Talks to the Rain as the Amazon Burns

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
Miguel Hernández

this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
alike—she doesn’t
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
rise—glacial retreat—
doesn’t know wildfire—
greenhouse gas—carbon
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
electric sudden—
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
moments—lady bugs—
laughter—trillium—
blue jays—arias—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
daughter: another
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi

More by Dante Di Stefano

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry)

Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home. 
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, 
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated. Write
a poem containing the words “common”
“core,” “differentiate,” and “overdose.”
Write the names of the ones you will never
forget: “Jenna,” “Tiberious,” “Heaven,”
“Megan,” “Tanya,” “Kingsley” “Ashley,” “David.”
Write Mari with “Nobody’s Baby” tattooed
in cursive on her neck, spitting sixteen bars
in the backrow, as little white Mike beatboxed
“Candy Shop” and the whole class exploded.
Write about Zuly and Nely, sisters
from Guatemala, upon whom a thousand
strange new English words rained down on like hail
each period, and who wrote the story
of their long journey on la bestia
through Mexico, for you, in handwriting
made heavy by the aquís and ayers
ached in their knuckles, hidden by their smiles.
Write an ode to loose-leaf. Write elegies
on the nub nose of a pink eraser.
Carve your devotion from a no. 2
pencil. Write the uncounted hours you spent
fretting about the ones who cursed you out
for keeping order, who slammed classroom doors,
who screamed “you are not my father,” whose pain
unraveled and broke you, whose pain you knew.
Write how all this added up to a life.  
 

Related Poems

Complaint of El Río Grande

I was meant for all things to meet:
to make the clouds pause in the mirror
of my waters, to be home to fallen rain
that finds its way to me, to turn eons
of loveless rock into lovesick pebbles
and carry them as humble gifts back
to the sea which brings life back to me.

I felt the sun flare, praised each star
flocked about the moon long before
you did. I’ve breathed air you’ll never
breathe, listened to songbirds before
you could speak their names, before
you dug your oars in me, before you
created the gods that created you.

Then countries—your invention—maps
jigsawing the world into colored shapes
caged in bold lines to say: you’re here,
not there, you’re this, not that, to say:
yellow isn’t red, red isn’t black, black is
not white, to say: mine, not ours, to say
war, and believe life’s worth is relative.

You named me big river, drew me—blue,
thick to divide, to say: spic and Yankee,
to say: wetback and gringo. You split me
in two—half of me us, the rest them. But
I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear
mothers’ cries, never meant to be your
geography: a line, a border, a murderer.

I was meant for all things to meet:
the mirrored clouds and sun’s tingle,
birdsongs and the quiet moon, the wind
and its dust, the rush of mountain rain—
and us. Blood that runs in you is water
flowing in me, both life, the truth we
know we know: be one in one another.

Haw River Meditation

Because I want to be good,
when I take my students
to the river
to write,
I try to set it up.
Think about what you're seeing.
(I have to shout.)
Think about what it means—
to see. (I look around.) This tree:
its branches—those bent lines have recorded
light arriving over years.
Those shapes…

(liking the way it sounds
I look at my students.
They look confused.)
…someone could tell
where other trees were blocking
light, and when,
by mapping where they bend.
Think about how the sun
shifted north and south—and back again—
each year. How it crossed
the sky a little differently
each day. Some days
there were clouds.
Some years drought.

West of here (I pull
back from pointing,
too late, unsure)
a continental seam tilts water east.
Some of that passes this tree.

I keep going:
settlement, displacement,
genocide, development, them—
and all of it, almost all of it,
is true.
But lately that seems false.
Lately, everything I
say seems false,
sounds full of being said.
My wife and I live
with fear in our cells. When
we went to the mountains
I saw low clouds tendrilling
bare elevated trees
and felt relieved by the words for that
and happy for the loneliness
I can have with her—
for someone not to tell.
I should tell my students
that I show up some days
tired and sad,
though I don't know what
to make of that
other than these sounds
most of them still can't hear.
I wish for them wonder
that I might see myself.
I wish for them words
that I might hear.
For myself, I wish for honesty,
and for the almost-
not-saying of these words
to be good
and plain.
I want to add nothing
untrue or overmuch.
Just downriver
the river branches.
When there's too much rain
it floods.

The Shapes of Leaves

Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,

and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.