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Joan Potter

© 2000


I remember the summer before Joel’s birth. God, it was hot. Big-bellied, fat-ankled me canned tomatoes, biked to Josh’s T-ball games, played catch with Sam behind the house, and wallowed in the green water of Lake Menomin. When the heat softened, stars hung overhead, and bats chased dinner through smudgy dusk, I sought relief in the porch—a lop-sided addendum on the southeast corner of the house. Here the breezes slipped in and out of the screened walls, ruffling the drooping shefflera leaves and lifting the edges of magazine covers. While August licked the edges of the porch, I—legs elevated on a kitchen chair and a pillow shoved behind the small of my back—cross-stitched tiny Christmas decorations.

Each would get his own ornament: green-mufflered, red-nosed boy warming his hands at a pot-bellied stove for Josh, the mittened child balancing a stack of wrapped presents for Sam, a baby in yellow pajamas draped over a black cocker spaniel for the child due in October. I stitched, planned, visualized....

Erect the tree in the picture window this year...let the tiny lights keep a vigil over the neighbors...and reflect across the snow crowned bushes...the white-capped mailbox.


Bake cookies...listen to murmurs of reading from the next room...where, finger to word, Josh will practice reading on Sam, his best admiring audience.

French knot.

Watch them grow...attend their teenage activities...because, in some distant years, they will sing in the choir, play tennis, go to college...lives filled with safety...never pain. Of course.


So many holidays; so many events.

So much time.


Twenty-one years later, I unpack the ornaments to hang on another tree. The work is still brilliant, the hues unfaded. Unchanged. But I no longer look ahead. I gaze back instead at chubby hands and blond curls, smell their just-bathed, talcy necks and feel little bodies curl into mine as we read. I study the stitches, as if they contain the secret of where the details went. Or how the years got past me. Some plodded conspicuously, a couple sprinted....but most tip-toed behind my back, leaving me standing here with a string of white lights across one palm and the stitched ornaments in the other.



limps across our threshold
about lost bird song
and vanished color;
about the field’s stubbly beard
drab and drained
like the cheek of the sky;
about the damp shiver
just below her skin
that refuses to go away;
about the darkness of morning when she crawls reluctantly out of bed
to set her feet on frozen planks;
about the darkness when she drags herself home again
after brief hours waiting for something to happen,
knowing it won’t.

The whines seldom last a season:
they annoy
but don’t recall the life found in spontaneous warblings,
budding limbs,
or the fragrance of earth just after rain;
they don’t bring back the tingle of sun on her neck;
nor can they banish the threat of ice
and howling drifts that attempt to curl up over the house,
smothering human contact,
permitting brief glimpses of watering eyes,
frozen eyelashes,
and sniffling noses.

she throws herself across the land
in a screaming tirade,
beating her frozen heels against the fragile trees
and brittle stalks of whitened grass;
once again she demonstrates that perverse power
of the victim,
lashing at herself to make the fury stop;
inflicting pain on the one she’s certain will feel it;
daring change to make her cease.

And it will end,
as it always does—
then return again.
As it always does.
Hard to say which is more perplexing:
the wrath or the repetition.
Or which the greater source of comfort.



being white
and feeling guilty
a politically correct phenomenon
and contemporary
as malaises go
driving how I construct the world
now I seesmelltastefeelhear
how I interact
with it and with others
how I teach
what I teach
that I teach

teaching is not the business of information dissemination
not really
after all even factoid distribution reveals bias
which facts
whose facts
in what order
as Truth
or as theory
limits or challenges
to what end
these particular tidbits of stuff
and always

what does guilt have to do with career anyway
besides everything
vocation by avocation
driven by urgency
and hope

teaching is
political performance art
subversive agenda
a helium balloon so value laden
it sinks even as it blue skies

teaching is
the celebrator
the communicator
and limiter
of what is
and ever shall be

Joan Potter was a 2000 Selective fellow. She teaches English and Drama at Wayzata High School. She received a Kohl Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching in 1993, the same year in which she was a candidate for Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. She is especially interested in the theatre: as an actress, singer and director. She even created and directed an original play for a festival in Chiba, Japan.