mud season m says when I tell him how three of us had to push the truck out of a rut in the garden, and that’s what all the mud splatter is on my jeans mud season when i get out early the next morning because the ground is still morning frozen to drive the van out back to unload the logs mud season when I notice the drag of mud from my boot into the elementary school hallway guilty after taking my lunch break walking around outside without a coat, or even a hat, mud season because 50 degrees feels like 75, and I can hear the red winged blackbirds purr growl trill their song from the clump of elms and oaks at the edge of the river.
we are doing a workshop during orientation called theater of the oppressed, based on Paolo Freire’s pedagogy, and one group acts out a skit about m’s experience of how she was the first girl ever picked for her little league baseball team (1974), and her coach called her to say maybe you shouldn’t play, you will mess up the team dynamic, but then she makes Allstars (1976), and the coach calls again, maybe you should sit out this game, m.
but the point of the workshop is that now all of us are watching the skit and we can clap and freeze the action, to switch places with one of the actors and turn the oppressor around.
someone claps in, switches places with the coach and says
m, we are so happy to have you on the team, we fully support you here!
oh really? m says, I thought the other coach said that i couldn’t play.
he was wrong, the new actor says. he was very wrong.
as more groups act out other skits depicting personal stories of small oppressions, in classrooms, in offices, from childhood we get into a groove of clap freeze change history and now everyone wants to clap in to right the wrongs, and some of the improvised more empowering dialogue makes us laugh.
afterward people share what was hard and what was easy, and we talk about lessons in responsibility. not always up to the authority to correct an oppressive action. hard to do it in the moment. easier to challenge a bigoted stranger. harder to challenge a misguided friend.
ly loses her top front tooth in the somewhat sacred five minutes when everyone is actually quiet and journaling in their sit spots scattered along the trail after lunch and she runs to me from the shelter of sticks that she’d claimed since monday,
smiling with her hand outstretched
and there is a little bit of blood where she had been wiggling and wiggling. i tell her yes you can bring it inside and get cleaned up.
when we’re all walking out of the woods back to the classroom, h, who is also seven years old, looks like she is thinking very hard and tells me she is jealous of ly losing her tooth.
i tell her that i didn’t lose most of my teeth until 5th grade, but i’m not sure it’s a comfort in the moment
and i am left to wonder about the cravings of growing, even if it means
the coming apart of us,
shedding teeth like
a process of molting i’d forgotten i’d done.
in the dream the girl is five years old, and it is clear that i had abandoned her. she looks up at me with her blue green eyes as if she’s asking the hardest question in the world, and i feel the pressure of whatever it was i had done weighing down on my chest.
kneeling in the wet ground i plant the
the ones i had started on my windowsill in june, the ones now with root bound bottoms all interlaced and overgrown, craning their still strong stems upward to see the sun and i say
that it took me this long to find bare earth to plant them. and the drizzling rain christens their new home.
but they’re not from around here, m, who is 6, says
about the gypsy moths, when i stop him from smashing a crowd of them that we find on the giant oak tree. well, are you from around here? i ask him, to which he nods emphatically, not understanding a connection. but why don’t they just go back to where they came from?! he says angrily. it’s just a little more complicated than that, i say, and we walk to catch up with the rest of the group entering into the woods.
when the fourth grade girls all swarm in to hug me goodbye just as their teachers are shepherding them onto the bus home after lunch and
one of the girls who had been holding my hand the entire walk from the dining hall says she will never let go, but then she does, and they wave from the bus steps and wave from their bus seats and the engines start and we wave back from the driveway
until the bus pulls out and the wheels turn on the gravel and round a corner, and the trees with their pale green leaves wash them out of sight.
listening to nd practice the ukulele from his room
and kw sneeze from her
nook under the stairs
and hs out by the fire pit putting out the
last of the embers after his grilled steak dinner,
and the rest of them upstairs muffled laughing and moving
chairs, while i sit
on the couch near the front door, writing these words.
the cloudy chill that feels like spring is
suspended in the half unfurled fiddleheads, and the unopened dandelions
and the one apple tree near the library with blossoms still clasped, hesitating to extend its petals to the world.