—Paintings by Douglas Polk, Kearney, NE
INTERNATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR
—Michael H. Brownstein, Jefferson City, MO
—for Frank Christenson, deceased 2019
He was the blinding light that never blinded,
the rough edge of emerald within a river polished aquamarine.
How do you teach students from a place you have never been?
Study the methods of Frank, the dynamics in his voice,
his dramatic gestures, his power to engage.
He had a way with the bricks of learning;
he was the clay that created confident proactive learners.
Can an inner-city classroom perform King Lear from memory, sets and all?
He took his students to that height and then further.
Chekhov, Beckett, Molière, Hansberry.
His drama club was the drama club of his students,
middle schoolers, actors and directors, writers and producers.
We will read one of my favorite books for a few weeks, he said at the beginning of class. We will not study how to take a test. We will not read stories from the basal reader. We will illuminate the curriculum.
He had a core curriculum encompassing mountains and valleys,
rivers and dry stream beds, thunderstorms and the eye of a hurricane.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Old Man and the Sea, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
And Shakespeare—always Shakespeare.
Then he went to Asia to teach English to the people of Taiwan, China, Viet Nam—
and his students thrived and became scholars
graduating with honors from the University of California at Berkeley,
the University of Illinois in Chicago and Champaign, Ivy league schools—
When he spoke, his students became kites in the wind of knowledge,
diggers deep in the mines of comprehension,
sunlight and moonlight, the gleam of blue-eyed skies, honey-tailed sunsets,
the dawn and ballet of scholarship.
Did he win awards during his lifetime? Accolades? MacArthur Fellowships?
Teacher of the Year?
This is what I wish for, his students called him to say, I wish for you to come to my graduation in California—or Illinois—or Massachusetts. I want you as my guest of honor. I will pay for everything. I am here because it was you who made me who I am today.
His students’ accomplishments were all he needed.
He was best man at my wedding, a great colleague, a best friend,
a teacher’s teacher—
He will truly be missed.
—Michael Ceraolo, S. Euclid, OH
People always asked why I played baseball
when I could be doing more lucrative things
The answer is simple:
I played because I loved the game
And also I loved the ancillary benefits:
travel, the hours, time to read
Linguistics I loved, but not enough to make a career of it
The law I didn't love, and so didn't make a career of it
Spying came close, but I was unable to make a career of it
You may have read one of the books about me,
or seen one of the movies about me,
and have wondered the same thing
You can ascribe whatever motivation you like,
or engage in psycho-biography,
and you'll probably be wrong:
I took my secrets to the grave with me,
and have no intention of revealing them from beyond
I wasn't the first player of course,
but I was the first to matter in the game's history:
if not the first, among the first to get paid to play,
the first to make the pitcher a dominant force
(and they've been trying to redress that ever since),
the first to be considered a star (or 'superstar'),
the first to die tragically
(at twenty-one of what proved to be a strangulated intestine
supposedly incurred while playing the game),
and the first to have a monument in his honor
Yet, since hundreds of thousands were at the same time
also dying tragically young in the war,
I refuse to engage in the game of what-if
for myself alone
Monday, July 19, 1909
First game of a doubleheader at League Park
We were leading 1-0 in the top of the second
when, after the first two men had reached base,
I caught a line drive and completed
the game's first unassisted triple play
Since it was the first one ever,
fans, and even the great Cy Young
who was on the mound for us,
didn't realize at first what had happened
(and the next day's paper made no mention
of its being the first of its kind),
but I got a rousing ovation
when it dawned on everybody
Then in the home half of the inning
I hit my only home run of the season,
driving the ball over Tris Speaker's head
and racing all the way around the bases
while he chased it down
The guy who hit two grand-slams in an inning
might have an argument when he gets here,
but he won't be here for many years,
and even then, because of the above,
I'll stake my claim to the greatest inning ever.
Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
Our thanks today to two of our Michaels, Brownstein and Ceraolo, for their poem-tributes to those who have passed: Michael Brownstein’s eulogy for his friend, Frank Christenson, and Michael Ceraolo’s three poems from his project, Dugout Anthology, which he calls “a Spoon River Anthology for baseball.” Our thanks, also, to Douglas Polk for more of his colorful paintings!
—Medusa, celebrating the feeling of being rained on ~
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