St. Paul distinguishes between an ignorant sin and a willful sin. If you sin willfully, of course, you’re in more danger.
Even if I become blind
but I can see you
I use something like this distinction when my students question the need to learn syntax. You can break the rules ignorantly or willfully, I respond. If you break them willfully, you’re more dangerous.
Even if I become deaf
but I can hear your voice
“The more you are aware of the syntax you move, see, and write in, the better control you have and the more you can step out of it when you need to. Actually, by breaking open syntax, you often get closer to the truth of what you need to say.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
But it’s hard for most of my ninth graders to break the rules well.
I can walk to you without feet
Diane broke the rules well, and she did it ignorantly, so she broke my rule well, too. She was an ESL student. Diana submitted this poem two years ago for our class’s print-on-demand anthology. When someone pointed out to her that her poem’s grammar or syntax or what-have-you wasn’t right, she asked me to remove the poem from the anthology’s proof. I somehow persuaded her to let me publish it.
I can say your name without mouth
These lines bristle with muscle from tearing the syntactical fiber, something she practiced every day. In that way, learning English for her may have been like strength training. So in each couplet, the first line hits me coming, and the second line hits me coming.
Even if my arms break
but I will catch you
I will catch you by heart like hands
I’ve lost touch with Diane. I republish her poem here only as a means of critiquing it. I don’t want to violate her copyright. All of these paragraphs lie between her stanzas.
What power can sometimes come from forcing one language through another, from having to live that kind of violence. Or how much we learn about diction and syntax from living around a toddler learning to talk.
I guess Diane will lose some of her muscle as she gets older, if muscle is the body’s way of recovering from training’s trauma. But maybe she’ll develop a curveball and a slider to complement her heat.
Even if my heart stops
then my brain will sing for you
But how could you go back? I just read The Catcher in the Rye. I loved it. How did he do that? What kind of life did he lead to write that?
Even if my brain burns out,
then my blood will hug you
What is it about the best writing from children? It feels like mankind’s purity, like ethnic cleansing, like children’s armies to draw lessons from it for the betterment of adult writers. Our ideas of becoming as children tend to exploit children and adults.
Better to live in the poem, as I’d live in a house of any age.
Posted March 13, 2010.