Dorian Dallas Poetry Self portrait

The poem, "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali covers the subject of life as a teacher. The speaker within the poem is a frustrated, insulted teacher who loves what he or she does. This poem bears significance for me because I share a lot in common with the speaker. As a teacher, I try my best to show my students that I care about their success and, sometimes, I feel like I am working my ass off for very little thanks or recognition. The poem shows how people don't have a lot of respect for our profession, while many of us teachers see our job as one that is very important: we shape the future. I love the final lines of the poem that reads "Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?"

"What Teachers Make"

by Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is

What’s a kid going to learn

from someone who decided his best option in life

was to become a teacher?

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true

what they say about teachers:

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his

and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests

that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.

Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—

because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking:

if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.

I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor

and an A-­ feel like a slap in the face.

How dare you waste my time

with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall

in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.

No, you may not ask a question.

Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?

Because you’re bored.

And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:

Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,

I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.

To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,

“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?

It’s no big deal.”

And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are

and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,

I make them question.

I make them criticize.

I make them apologize and mean it.

I make them write.

I make them read, read, read.

I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful

over and over and over again until they will never misspell

either one of those words again.

I make them show all their work in math

and hide it on their final drafts in English.

I make them understand that if you’ve got this,

then you follow this,

and if someone ever tries to judge you

by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:

Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

Books and reading are my passion. In fact, if I didn't have other things to do, I could spend all day at a library or a Barnes and Noble! The Poem, "In The Reading Room" by David Ferry speaks to my heart as a reader. The poem reads, "The page is blank until the mind that reads / Crosses the black river..." It then goes on to note that we cross that river in search of something, only to find our misunderstandings of texts. I love this idea because as a reader I love being confused. Of course I love to understand what I have read, but I also welcome my confusion surrounding a text. Sometimes texts are supposed to be tricky--to be threatening even--but we have to understand that we won't always understand, and that is OK.

"In the Reading Room"


Alone in the library room, even when others

Are there in the room, alone, except for themselves

There is the illusion of peace; the air in the room

Is stilled; there are reading lights on the tables,

Looking as if they're reading, looking as if

They're studying the text, and understanding,

Shedding light on what the words are saying;

But under their steady imbecile gaze the page

Is blank, patiently waiting not to be blank.

The page is blank until the mind that reads

Crosses the black river, seeking the Queen

Of the Underworld, Persephone, where she sits

By the side of the one who brought her there from Enna,

Hades the mute, the deaf, king of the dead letter;

She is clothed in the beautiful garment of our thousand

Misunderstandings of the sacred text.

They say "if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready." But how can one ever prepare for moments when life just happens. Sometimes life happens fast. The morning of my car accident, I thought I was going to have the best day ever. Then there was accident. This moment has taught me that we can never really prepare for life's inconveniences. The poem, "Sonnets at Sunset" communicates the idea of how death is always looming and that we should be building for it every day. Fletcher writes, "we are the victims death has not yet taken away from our task of serving life." This sentiment speaks to my awareness after the accident. I am more aware that "beyond the world's verge, Death stands here, aglow."

On Seeing the Bright Side: A Lesson On Optimism

A student once said to me, in simultaneous humor and disgust, "Mr. Dallas, you always so happy!" Through my laughter I replied, "What's wrong with that?" I must say that I was quite happy with this student's assessment of me, because the truth is I am not. However, I do give happiness and optimism an honest try every single day. Even on the days I am most tired and overwhelmed. The poem "Relax" by Ellen Bass has a theme of "things happen," but also demands that audiences find joy in all the unfortunate circumstances in life. In this poem a woman near death, notices a strawberry growing and decides to pluck it and savor its flavor. Words to live by in troubling times? "Relax!"


Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.

Your tomatoes will grow a fungus

and your cat will get run over.

Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream

melting in the car and throw

your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.

Your husband will sleep

with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling

out of her blouse. Or your wife

will remember she’s a lesbian

and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–

the one you never really liked–will contract a disease

that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth

every four hours. Your parents will die.

No matter how many vitamins you take,

how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,

your hair and your memory. If your daughter

doesn’t plug her heart

into every live socket she passes,

you’ll come home to find your son has emptied

the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,

and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.

There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.

When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine

and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.

And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out

and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point

she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.

She looks up, down, at the mice.

Then she eats the strawberry.

So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse

in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,

slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel

and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.

Oh taste how sweet and tart

the red juice is, how the tiny seeds

crunch between your teeth.

A word on relationships: they can be scary. No matter the type of relationship, be it friendship, family, or romantic, relationships are very demanding which can be off-putting to someone who isn't used to their demands. For me, I love having close bonds with others, but I admit that vulnerability can be tough sometimes. This idea can be summed up from a line in the poem, "Rollercoasters" that reads, "I'm scared to fly / I might come down." The roller coaster represents relationships and how they are filled with ups and downs and twists and turns, yet they can be thrilling. The line above shows that as bad as we want relationships, we sometimes fear all that they might come with, or that they'll be good for a while, only to end poorly. This has been my story before, which is why I am glad that the following line reads, "Think I'm ready now / getting back in line." This provides audiences the prospect of trying again.

“Rollercoasters” (ABRIDGED)

by: Tank and the Bangas

I’ve always wondered why people rode roller coasters—

Why the feeling of throwing up

Brought about some feeling of excitement they didn’t receive

on a regular day

When did feeling sickness become the new thrill?

When did nausea become the new X pill?

I’ve always wondered why people rode roller coasters

And I remember

I remember when I did

It’s the butterflies—

And the fireflies

Fighting in my stomach—

The light beneath their wings—

Scared to fly; I might come down

Think I’m ready now

Getting back in line.

So why’s it so exciting to be so scared?

Like feeling your heart roll through your body

Only to find its place in your hands

But you can’t wait to get back in line

You gotta get on one more time

You can’t wait to tell your friends about the drop—

And how it looks from the very top.

Roller coasters

Are for people who have never been in love

They want to know how it just feels

To just fall

It’s the butterflies—

And the fireflies

Fighting in my stomach—

The light beneath their wings—

Scared to fly; I might come down

Think I’m ready now

Getting back in line.


Created with images by gromgull - "A Strawberry"

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