Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wolfeboro Camp School June 23, 2015

Short reading at opening faculty meeting, Wolfeboro Camp School, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Ed Cooper, Head of School.

I’ve been retired for 14 years, so I have to find ways to stay in touch with kids and schools. One way is through you guys. Another is through grandchildren, especially athletes. I’m going to start with a couple of soccer poems (I’m guessing we have some soccer people here).


Packs of four-year olds
Chase the soccer ball around the field.
No one wants to play in goal,
And those who do gaze at dandelions
With other defenders
Similarly disinclined,
Feet planted on the end line
Hoping the game will not come their way.

Those who come to love the game
See in time a chance to do
What someone has to do,
Face down attackers,
Take on and share burdens,
Leap, dive, roll,
And, learning life’s geometry,
Come out to cut down the angle.

The motif of the athlete dying young is as old as literature itself. Yet one is always surprised at the extent of its reach.


The life of a friend, a teammate
Suddenly, inexplicably:
You honored him by playing hard,
By standing for him
In the chancel,
All of you, your uniforms
Still damp from trying,
As if you did not already know
Of the fragileness of life.

42 years in NAIS schools will give you a lense through which you look at everything, things close at hand and others in the distant past. This is a piece about Golden Pines, a term I use to describe both a place and a time in people’s lives.


We like to jest that Golden Pines
Is rather like a school,
New residents—freshmen—
Compare over hors d’oeuvres
Places lived, who knew whom,
Where and when.
The higher-ups must deal, not with
The disaffected parents of their charges
But with their young.

So this evening, sitting on the bus
At the symphony hall,
I thought of the frantic French Club chaperone,
Searching the streets of Montreal.
A friend of ours, early in the onset
Of something or other,
Had gone out the wrong door and
Wandered into the dangerous night
Of an unknown city.
Anxious minutes until they found him.
I told myself:
Well, he is eight or nine years older than we are:
Maybe just five.

Then a look back in time—keep in mind these are things that happened 65 years ago.


At our little grade school,
Progressive—wooden bungalows,
Open air, dim light in winter,
Blankets brought from home—
Mike Freedman and I were the jesters:
Instead of learning our Latin conjugations
We devised a synthetic tongue
We called Reboshkan
And began an epic on Der Fertz,
Garbage Man of Rheims in the Time of Charlemagne.
Tom Carlisle, our wise headmaster,
Cut us some slack,
Allowed us to perform at lunch
Parodies set to tunes
We sang in Music class—
“It was from Tom Carlisle’s big beer party
We were seeing Nellie home.”
Mr. Carlisle let us have a baseball team.
To put nine on the field
We had to use fifth graders,
Even girls. Gerry pitched and I caught.
Mike didn’t play.
He did earn a doctorate, I think.
It did not come to us until much later
How much we owed Tom Carlisle.

I wonder from time to time
What became of Mike—
Went off to boarding school
After eighth grade,
Wound up, we heard or imagined,
A professor of something somewhere.
He was our age but seemed older,
With a vast and profane knowledge.
Gerry and I marveled, were puzzled
At the information he possessed
About girls, about private parts.
Gerry died some years ago
Of those cigarettes we shared
In the sad back alleys
Of those young Rust Belt days.
Without success I’ve looked for Mike
On the Internet, curious
With that urge that comes
Of being almost 80
To learn how things turned out,
A baroque quartet
Come back around,
A resolving, a tying off.

Some of you may remember the poem I’ve read at the Greenwood festival, that ends with the lines:

I tell the dark-haired boy
You have written a poem;
That makes you a poet.

I tell the kids that not everyone believes that, but I hope they do. And I hope you do, too, that in your work here this summer you will continue to find and nurture talent and success in young people who had not thought it possible, and that, as always, great kindness will come of it. Thank you.