Teaching in a prison just has to change a person. Here, Brian Hendrickson ruminates, "I used to think I had lived / An incredibly clever life."
Well, welcome to the yard. Yet, teaching inside is not the same as living inside and the poet looks for his own kind of meaning.
He also mentions Ted Kooser, whose American Life in Poetry
was the actual inspiration for my own weekly column, The Sunday Poem. Kooser, a former insurance adjuster from Lincoln, Nebraska, was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006.
Brian Hendrickson’s poems are influenced by his career as a teacher as well as the time he’s spent in Florida, Alaska, & North Carolina. His poems have appeared in numerous publications. Recently Brian & his wife moved to Albuquerque where he is working toward his PhD in English. The following poem originally appeared in Pemmican 2010
The Ornithology of Conviction
This afternoon, the prison yard
Hushed by rain of the house
Sparrows’ chirrups – those earrings
I have worn at my desk by the dogwood-
Shaded window, gone missing. Each morning,
In passing beneath the breezeway rafters,
An explosion of pigeons.
I keep telling my students that
Their fates are not ironic. I walk
The dog in the evening and I listen
To the thrashers flipping dead leaves
Under the wilting azaleas.
I used to think I had lived
An incredibly clever life.
I am a man and it is important
I mean what I say: My students
Are mothers whose children are tucked
Into strange beds by state-
Appointed strangers. So it is very important
To me it is very important.
Luncheons with the warden we are
To bow our heads in the chaplain’s prayer.
Eyes closed, I imagine the red-shouldered hawk
Gigging pigeons in a mid-air tumble of wings
And talons above the perimeter fence,
Or sometimes heaving up out of the aster
And crimson clover a small and broken
April: The sparrows, the chickadees, and now
The starlings have come to the annuals
The women have planted in beds
Along the sidewalks, and they pass by
In their monochromatic blue dresses,
Saying, See the beauty God has given us?
And they do not think that a part of them
Explodes toward the sky with the pigeons –
That a part of that part is barreled down,
Neck broken, by the red-shouldered hawk’s
Immutable claws. I do not mean
A house sparrow to be anything but
A house sparrow – although recounting one
Is both a willful act of concentration
And, out from the cobwebbed breezeway
Rafters of the brain, an unpredictable
Unfurling of wings.
Class cancelled, I read
The latest Kooser. Hicok.
I will not share with my students,
But it matters. To the women,
The annuals matter.
The annuals matter to the guards
And to the birds.
And to the women planting them,
The dirt beneath their fingernails
Matters. The first lesson: Everything
Matters. I tell them. They tell me.
Birdless, this afternoon is a gift
Wrapped tightly in rain.
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