I was put in Kindergarten when I was four years old. Having an inquisitive mind, a wild imagination and troubled home life all worked against me. Plus, my teachers never figured out I was dyslexic. I didn’t test well and scowled a lot in the early grades. I thought I was dumb.
I wrote “Daydreamers” when I was a freshman in college in 1967. It’s the oldest poem in my collected works, The Stone Circle Poems released by Parkhurst Brothers Publishers. What a brash poem from my youth.
I first self-published “Daydreamers” in a chapbook. It became popular with professors of education during the 1970’s. Rumor got back to me from a student-friend that a professor had written the poem out on her blackboard for students to read. It speaks for a certain kind of student that still gets left behind.
Poems collect stories as they travel down the line, especially when you recite them like I do in schools, universities, conferences and festivals all over Michigan and the USA. After a performance session in Clare High School a sophomore girl named Leslie approached me and said, “I want to tell you something about your ‘Daydreamers’ poem.”
“What?” I asked.
“The teacher in that poem is my great-grandmother, and she wants to see you.”
“I don’t know where she lives,” I answered.
“I’ll draw you a map,” was Leslie’s reply. Later that day she handed me a piece of paper with perfect directions to her great-grandma’s house.
My fifth-grade teacher, Louise Corner Furkey, still lived west of my hometown and north of the cemetery, but I didn’t visit her. My personal take on our two years together was that we had a personality clash. Plus, she was a good teacher and I wasn’t a very good student.
The next year I was back in Clare High School again. I didn’t have anything to do one night, so I attended a girls’ basketball game. At halftime while standing in the popcorn line, I ran into Leslie and her mother. We talked for a while, and Leslie’s mom said, “Please visit my grandmother. She really wants to talk with you.”
Well, I didn’t. Anytime I was in the area I forgot or ignored the request.
A few summers ago as Mom was rapidly declining from Alzheimer’s disease, my wife and I drove her to Marion to sightsee and visit her parents’ graves at Greenwood Cemetery. As we left the family plot, I noticed a new headstone close by. It was Mrs. Corner, my fifth-grade teacher.
I was wise enough by then to understand the favor she did for me by holding me back. I was finally in with the kids I should have started kindergarten with, and school became much easier for me after that. I patted Louise’s headstone and said thank you.
During a visit to my hometown I told this story to a class of sixth graders. Their teacher, Mrs. Fox, raised her hand. She told me her sister took care of Louise during the last year of her life, and that Mrs. Corner was very disappointed that I wouldn’t visit her.
Mrs. Fox’s comment made me feel pretty low. I realized I’d blown it.
I wish I’d had gumption enough to visit my old fifth-grade teacher, and take along a tape recorder like I use in the Elders Projects. I wonder what our conversation would have been like? What insights she may have given me about myself? What a lost opportunity. I’m sorry Mrs. Corner.
I failed fifth grade. My teacher said
I daydreamed too much,
that I didn’t pay attention to her
arithmetic, science, English, or history when
I should have.
Had her all over again
in the same room
with the same windows
to dream out through
the next year.
She said the very same
things all over again,
but I passed anyways.
New friends was all.
She’s still saying the same
things I didn’t care to listen to,
and failing daydreamers
inside the same room
with those same windows
I dreamed through
to way out past her windows
waiting for failures’ dreams to come true.