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  • Poems by Children
  • John Rybicki (bio)

What is left in the world to remind us we’re all part of one human family? These young seers in Detroit and Chicago, my students, have taught me to say yes to a world where magic and transcendence are still possible. Is this Helena Markus, Ilana Weisbach, and Jonah Bauer, or is it Blake, Keats, and Shakespeare singing to us from the mouth of innocence? Is it Ali Kane, Molly Bremer, and Rasheda White, or is it Dickinson, Stevens, and Bishop? With their fire-breathing, grace-enacting poems, these children take the tired eyes from our skulls and baptize them in newness; they dip their pens in a star’s fire and scrawl across the sky the kinds of sentences God would roll out of bed to read.

Poetry is the language of our largeness, and it’s the language of our brokenness. The best of it is summoned from two extremes: duress, earthquake weather of the human heart; and rapture, exaltation, those times in our lives when it’s so exquisite to wear this skin that light may as well be shooting through our pores.

As we wade into the adult world our imaginative powers erode until, in essence, a divine part of us has been tamed. These children, like children all over the world with dew on their eyes, move beyond lush sensory description into vision: they awaken us into a new way of seeing. When I was a little wiggler my father and I sat gazing at a bright blue full moon. He said, “There’s the moon, Johnny.” I said cookie. “It’s the moon, son.” No, it’s a bowl of milk for our cat to drink. “Moon, Johnny.” No, it’s a lighthouse, Papa, with a lonely man living inside it. Finally, and with some severity, my father barked, “That’s the moon, son.” And so the house of shimmer inside the child collapses. Okay, Papa, it’s the moon.

Children see the magic and possibility that reside in all things. They hurtle their imaginations against moon or mud, broken glass or star, and use those things as the vehicles for their translation. In so doing, they convince us that perhaps we are not adrift alone in the cosmos, after all. Poetry rakes away the veil of sleep that obscures our most genuine emotions and perceptions. It sets us breathing a sweeter sort of oxygen, the kind of oxygen that may have been ours in the Garden. No one does it better than children. Lift these pages to your eyes and read, and if the urge strikes you, drop to your knees. [End Page 148]

  • I Want a Machine
  • Ilana Weisbach

that would take me back in time

so my shadow could ring the bell of peace

in the first person’s ear.

—Ilana Weisbach, fourth grade
  • I Have a Yellow Scarf
  • Ali Kane

At dawn I thrust it into the sky,

and at sunset it comes back down

and it stays with me all night.

—Ali Kane, third grade [End Page 149]
  • This Is What I Want You to See
  • Jonah Bauer

My mom’s sitting in front of the fire and she’s so quiet and peaceful

that her face shows up in the little fire and not only that, my face appears

in the flames too and we sit and watch each other all night long.

—Jonah Bauer, fourth grade

  • An Oak Tree Is Not
  • Molly Bremer

a wooden soldier waiting to attack.

A river is not a man dressed in blue clothing hurrying to the ocean.

A grave is not a person who has turned into stone.

The stars are not people who have died and are now watching over us.

—Molly Bremer, third grade [End Page 150]

  • Inside Each Snowflake
  • Helena Markus

there is a waterfall where God is taking a bath.

—Helena Markus, fourth grade
  • A Shadow Beehive
  • Rasheda White

I hear an old man and...


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p. 148
Launched on MUSE
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