Meditations on Insufficiency: On Two Decades of Teaching #Poetry #Poem #Teaching #Education #Insufficiency #Meditations #MidlifeCrisis

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Am I having a midlife crisis? After over two decades of teaching, I am spent. Over the past few months, I have begun to seriously question my role as an educator. The kind words of Wendell Berry, reminding me that “as a high school English teacher you are necessary, and I’m guessing with some confidence that you are also heroic,” have been one of the lifelines that keep me going each day as I look out on my students looking down at their phones or Chromebooks. Met by apathy, I’ve nearly lost my will to even try to draw out from my students that deeper value that lies within each of them, that cannot be measured by test scores or academic performance.

These four octaves, similar to my Meditations on Modernity, reflect the sudden but necessary realization of my own insufficiency and the hopeful return to my source of inspiration and the courage to teach, especially in these times. What worked twenty years ago doesn’t work anymore; that should come as no surprise. What has been harder to swallow is the feeling that things have regressed. But rather than see all of this as a loss, I welcome it as an opportunity. That is a gift we have as teachers: each school year ends, summer comes, and the chance for a fresh start presents itself once again. Here’s to new skins, new flames, and new currency for each new year!

(Hats off to my wife for suggesting “one-ply” and “cyber” to put into words what I was trying to express!)

The Skin, the Flame, and the Purse: Meditations on Insufficiency

By Vincent H. Anastasi 2023

This skin's gone dry,
the last potent drops
poured out on men of stones.
And I bend down
to soak up the spill
with one-ply paper towels
no more absorbent
than these cyber-sodden minds.

These last embers expire,
gift of Prometheus
tended through long years.
Having stoked the flames,
I present the fiery offering,
but no breath could enkindle
these lifeless things
mesmerized by an unnatural glow.

Now dust collects
in this empty purse.
All's spent; nothing remains,
and not a coin-choked fish
to be found -- no miraculous catch.
Pockets turned out, I beggar
my way through each day
ignored, collecting only apathy's largesse.

Exchange skins with me
that I might hold new wine;
inflame this hollow stalk
with fresh and holy fire;
fill, once again, these hands
with lush sufficiency
that I, alive, might call forth life
from graves where dead men sleep. 

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