Poem of the Week, by Jim Daniels



A long time ago I decided not to grade my students on their creative writing, even though creative writing is what I teach. Grading someone on their talent usually means they’ll write what they think they they’re good at, smart at. Push out those boundaries, I tell them, try something new, something you’ve never tried before. Who knows what you might come up with? What they come up with is sometimes astonishing, and when they surprise themselves with it the whole room fills with light and energy and power. Smartness and talent are cool to witness and to experience, but beyond that, who cares? So many other things matter so much more. Like kindness.

     – Jim Daniels

Today my son realized someone’s smarter
than him. Not me or his mom —
he still thinks we know everything —
one of the other kids, Nathan. Making fun
of him at the computer terminal
for screwing up at the math game.
Other kids laughing at him. Second grade.
I’m never gonna be as smart as him,
he says.
I’m never gonna be as smart
as half my students if we’re talking
IQs. He doesn’t want me to explain.
He wants me to acknowledge
that he’s dumb. He’s lying in bed
and taking his glasses off and on,
trying to get them perfectly clean
for the morning. I’m looking around
his dark room for a joke or some
decent words to lay on him. His eyes
are glassy with almost-tears. Second grade.
The world wants to call on him.
I take his hand in mine.


For more information on Jim Daniels, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Jim Daniels

IMG_4028Those boots over there were sitting amongst the rundown running shoes and loafers and wingtips on a display rack of men’s shoes at Experienced Goods in Brattleboro, Vermont a few years ago. They were $8. It was clear that they were at least an inch too long for me, but because they were narrow I tried them on anyway and they fit as if someone had poured liquid leather around my feet and ankles and it magically turned into boots. I took them to an old-school cobbler to be resoled.

“Can you tell me what brand these are?” I said. “Because I need to buy only this brand for the rest of my life.”

He smiled.

“You can’t buy this brand,” the cobbler said. “There is no brand. These boots are probably thirty years old. They were handmade in Italy.”

Leather boots, steel toe boots especially, are one of the few things left in the world that can’t be rushed. They can’t be stonewashed or bleached or chemically altered in order to save time, because what boots need to fit right is exactly that: time. This poem reminds me of that fact.

Work Boots: Still Life
     – Jim Daniels

Next to the screen door
work boots dry in the sun.
Salt lines map the leather
and laces droop
like the arms of a new-hire
waiting to punch out.
The shoe hangs open like the sigh
of someone too tired to speak
a mouth that can almost breathe.
A tear in the leather reveals
a shiny steel toe
a glimpse of the promise of safety
the promise of steel and the years to come.

For more information on Jim Daniels, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Jim Daniels

Sometimes, in the kitchen putting together dinner for a bunch of people, it feels like a carefully choreographed dance – stir this time that preheat the oven lay out the ingredients bring this to room temperature put that in the freezer move this pot to the back burner remember the left front doesn’t work scrub the table get out the plates. On and on. You’re moving within a three-foot radius and every movement is tight and controlled. We are all, every one of us, so good at so many things, and we do those things over and over and over. Why are there not more poems by plumbers and welders and daycaregivers and quilters and tree trimmers? So much applause goes to the public and famous and not the short-order cook, when I know that what I’ll remember, and love, and miss when the time comes, is this: the beautiful ordinariness of days.

Short-order Cook
– Jim Daniels

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain’t no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit…
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point-
They are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
“Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!”
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

For more information on Jim Daniels, please click here: here.

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