Heather M. F. Lyke is a writer living in southern Minnesota. By day, she works in the world of K-12 education. On evenings and weekends, she creates—builds things out of nothing: sometimes with paint, occasionally with fabric, most often with words. Explore more of her works here: https://heatherlyke.weebly.com
Lessons of Survival
This cleave poem is comprised of segments pulled from actual emails sent to me by some of my high school students in 2020. The phrases are fully the words of my students: I simply united and rearranged.Heather M. F. Lyke
Where to start?
I really appreciate you reaching out to me–
Thank you for emailing me directly as
You have likely seen,
I have not turned in any work.
This shift to distance learning–
It has been rough.
Through this whole quarantine
I’ve been a little stressed out from the pandemic:
When are the short stories due? Next week?
Do you have an alternate assignment? Or…
Thanks again for connecting with me–
Things have been changing like crazy
But my parents worry so much
when I have missing assignments.
I find it difficult to motivate myself to do work but
I thought it was important that you know
I’ve been slightly distracted–
because my house is in utter chaos
My mom was rushed to the hospital last night;
I am just not able to think today.
Plus, I misunderstood the expectations
I really don’t mean to be a nuisance–
It is hard to find time to sit and work for hours
I spend time helping my mom with my siblings.
I know I’m emailing you on short notice–
Since I have not been to any of the Google Meets
(It is not because I don’t care about this class):
I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately–
with my Chromebook–so I use my brother’s.
The required coursework is sometimes hard
Then I struggle to navigate Google Classroom—
and my Wi-Fi acts up due to where I live:
I have been unable to connect.
I take full responsibility for my failure
All problems should be fixed by next week.
Finally (I know this is getting kind of long),
Thank you so much for your patience and
I apologize for any misunderstandings, but…
Well, anyway, long story short:
In person school was so much easier.
I just wanted to say I received your voicemail.
Thank you for being a sincerely kind person.
English has always been my favorite subject:
You make it my overall favorite class.
It is very unfortunate this part of the year–
Was taken away…
I have missed English and you.
I have been wondering–
How do you cope with all this stress?
Feel free to give me options:
Point me in the direction you think I should go.
I really appreciate it!
I was accepted into that online workshop I applied for
*Insert me freaking out here*
I was wondering what you thought I should do.
You’re always so kind and understanding–
You’re my favorite person to talk to.
I seriously miss your class and the way you taught us–
I seriously miss being in your classroom every day.
So, I just wanted to check up on you–
Thank you for listening to me…
That one day when you noticed I was upset.
My heart goes out to all the teachers right now–
During this pandemic–
Thank you for your help and support.
Thank you for taking the time
To talk about the books you think I’ll enjoy reading.
Know that I am working hard as I can…
I am trying my best–
I feel like I am rambling…
(And I’m starting to feel a bit teary-eyed)
You’ve moved me out of my comfort zone–
And it all has helped me to grow as a learner.
I will put in more effort to be punctual;
Yet, the real reason I am sending this is because
You’ve been supporting me since the first day I met you.
Thank you for always being so helpful and so kind.
Know that I got into the University of Pennsylvania!
I could not have done any of this without you.
Thank you for being such an influential adult in my life.
Train the Breath
As the towering buildings
turn golden against dusky sky,
my internal clock declares it time.
I close my laptop, pausing
all open tabs and conflicting voices:
need pulls me toward the den.
Cracking the window just an inch,
I fold the thick cotton eight times—
create the rectangle my sit-bones crave—
and set it on the cool of the tile floor:
center it with the window
before I center myself.
Body curved into lotus,
I breathe sounds of city air
I know it will come,
although rarely as scheduled,
always as planned.
Each in breath elongates my spine,
each out breath smooths tensions:
my thoughts fade.
I play with the circle of lights
flickering and dancing behind eyelids
when I hear it—
Whispering through the wind
the freight whistles its arrival.
The left corner of my lip curls.
I notice. Breathe in its melody.
A soothing interruption:
I knew it would come.
Now, I breathe in rhythm with the rattle of the tracks:
the train the syncopated treble allegro
and my breath the baseline
that keeps my body beating.
Melania renegotiates her prenup.
I wonder if it mentions how many times
per week (per month, per year, per election cycle),
she promises to have sex (with him).
I had never thought about Obamas in bed.
Nor about either of the Bush’s
(not until I read American Wife).
Nor FDR’s (until I fell in love with Eleanor).
There was that musical TV show
that got me thinking about Kennedy’s
(or at least about Marilyn’s).
I once I had wondered if Clinton (Hillary)
preferred to outsource the chore,
and it was only in poor form that
Monica was young and easily noticed.
My husband and I don’t have a prenup.
Then again, neither of us
have ever been elected.
Maybe when I’m president.
I had looked forward to unwinding
as tracks wound mountains—
as tracks narrow into a thin capital ‘A’
that tapers off at the horizon.
I was counting the minutes until my signal
should shrink from one bar to none—
until my anxiety
should shrink from strong signal
to powered off.
Certain I’d have two full days
from Chicago to Denver,
aside from books, pens, whiskey,
But your clan moves in
with oversized luggage banging,
and tinny voices
ricocheting from roomette 4, to 5, to 6,
down to bedroom E.
Your need for full-volume calls on speaker,
for shrill hallway conversations,
for coffee delivered,
drowns the meditation
that was to lead to prose,
Your oblivious train tête-à-têtes
have robbed me
of my everything—
except my whiskey.
End of June
In early June, I’ll sweep seeds of pines
off the cool cement of the balcony floor—
perhaps one will burrow and root—
and I’ll dust off heavy flowerpots
to fill them with herbs
to season the summer.
On June evenings, warm winds will
find me in my macramé hammock
and sway me side to side,
rocking me with the cityscape sunset—
a perfect precursor to sleep,
which I’ll do with windows open.
By mid-June, I’ll have already read
four or five novels—brainless fluff
to help me tuck away a tough year—
and each creased-bound novel
will be stacked in order of height
just inside the terrace’s glass door.
But this June, I’ll no longer share the summer
with my kindred neighbor as she nests
in her own oasis a few feet from mine.
The pandemic took her in December.
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