Dr. Judith M. Newman



Judith M. Newman


You think you see me
Here in front of you
But you're wrong.
There are really two of us-
Her and me.
You think it's me
Talking to you
But it's Her.
And I am as surprised by that as you are.
Instantly, uninvited
She was there.
Her whom I despise.
Where did she appear from?
I have no idea.
For twenty years I've fought to banish Her
And I thought I'd succeeded
But yesterday She suddenly appeared.
No warning.
No puff of smoke.
She just took control
Leaving me a helpless bystander.
Water won't dissolve Her
Like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Incantations, prayers have no power over Her.
I believed Her safely contained
But my chains were mere threads.
Now I'm terrified I will never be free of Her!


There is no word in English
For what I feel.
There's misogyny-
having or showing a distrust or hatred of women.
There's misanthropy-
a hatred or distrust of mankind.
But no word describing
What I feel for particular males:
males who strut,
who act as if women were theirs to use.
My antennae are so sensitive-
I bristle with rage
At a mere whiff of their contempt
And my Steffi Graf forehand is at the ready.

My _______ was roused
By some boys the other day.
Just children, really,
New grade sevens-
Small, immature, insecure
Protecting themselves
With a strutting insolence
But I sensed the men they could become
And my hatred erupted.


O--h G--o--d!
This feels like a two-valium morning.
The knot in my stomach
Shortness of breath-
A real anxiety attack
Fearing who I might be today.
Brandy would ease the tension
Instead I yoga breathe:
I n h a l e
E x h a l e
R e l a x
R e l a x
Until finally I think I can cope.


Some petty theft
A bit of vandalism-
not textbooks
(who'd want those)
not computers or software
(they're useful)
Just other kids' stuff
Gone missing
On blackboards and desks.
And our response?
Locked doors.
Shutting them out of the space
We say is theirs.
But kids know the truth:
Classrooms belong to teachers.


It's war-
We've drawn the lines.
We proclaim:
No hats in public places.
They reply:
Hey, man. Hats are everywhere!
We declare:
No hats in class!
They retort:
Why not?
The combat is joined
And their resistance pays off-
Our gaze is diverted
From learning
To endless punitive measures
That in the end are for naught:
When they leave school
They'll wear their wear hats
Wherever the hell they please!


Chaos confronted me
as I entered the hall:
kids running around
pulling stuff from one another's lockers.
I was standing there
hands on hips
when twelve year-old Sally
sidled up
leaned close
and said,
"Pretty rowdy, aren't they?"
"Yes," I concurred, "like wild Indians."
She leaned closer-
"I'm part Indian, you know," she confided.
A friendly overture
reflecting an image
I was shocked to see.


I want them soaring at a thousand feet
Finding their own wind
In balance.
But I'm fighting the turbulence
Here on the ground-
paying out slack,
hauling in line
So they won't dive and crash.
Climbing to where the wind is steady
Takes a great deal of patience and skill
I must wait for the right gust
To offer some lift
Then carefully maneuver-
in and out
out and in
Until suddenly they're off on their own.
Some days the gusts are simply too strong.
Just when they hover
A down-draft sends them crashing.
Sometimes, as they begin to climb,
The wind drops
And they slowly flounder back to earth.
But occasionally the wind is perfect-
steady and light
And together we soar
Riding the breeze with that solid tug
That makes us all feel joyful.


I discovered engagement
In my grandmother's kitchen
Her body supporting my four year-old frame
Helping me shape bagels
And knead bread
For the whole family to eat.
I discovered engagement
On my grandmother's sofa
Her deft hands helping mine
Ply a crochet hook
Weaving garments for my dolls.
I discovered engagement
By my grandmother's side
Teaching her to spell
While she helped me
Become a woman.

My engagement brought
Independence and community
Wonder and responsibility.
But where's that engagement in school?
"First ya gotta control 'em,"
That's what I hear.
"They won't do anything unless ya make 'em."
So it's no lockers between class,
No trips to the bathroom.
It's late slips and detentions
And in-school suspension.
There's no working together, no adventure
Or excitement at learning something new.
"If it's aversive enough," I hear,
"They'll comply."
But compliance brings
Dependence and hostility
Resistance and rebellion.

I try so hard to be like my grandmother
Offering invitations to wonder and explore
But the confining walls we inflict on kids
Serve only to alienate.
My grandmother knew something we have forgotten
We must welcome them warmly into our adult world.

* These poems were written during the fall of 1992 during which time I spent a term teaching and observing in a junior high school. I had grandiose plans of writing about the struggles in junior high schools from the inside--I'd read Tracy Kidder's Among School Children (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989) and was convinced I could do at least as well exposing the reality of life in schools, of making people aware of the politics of classroom teaching. So I arranged a placement in a junior high school. I became a member of the grade seven team attached to 7B, teaching the students language arts as well as pitching in as an extra pair of hands in the rest of 7B's classes. I also spent some time hanging out with students and teachers elsewhere in the school. This sabbatical experience made me question my understanding of the world, and left me with an anger and a sense of futility and hopelessness that took a long time to resolve.

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