Poem of the Week | April 20, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Teaching Artist Quad” by Clemonce Heard!

Clemonce Heard received his BFA in graphic communications from Northwestern State University and his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. His work has appeared in Obsidian, Ruminate, & World Literature Today, among others, and is forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Southern Indiana Review & Poetry. Heard currently serves as the 2019-2020 WICW Ronald Wallace Poetry Fellow. Heard was also a finalist for TMR’s 2018 Editors’ Prize.


Teaching Artist Quad

for Drexel Academy

I. Recess

Just like Claremore, a city I once believed
was named for clear more trees, they stripped
the land so the kids can see no skyline
but rather the casino in all of its orange glory.

The clustered building blistering horizon
resembling a castle from the playground
we assembled—cement we mixed & poured.
From the branches they climbed, sometimes

unable to get down. Though I have no clue
what the land between school & gamble
looks like now, ‘cept a pond & pump-jack
or two twigged into the loam of my memory,

I’m for certain the students I learned
remember me. That some of their hip
hugs now wrap my waist, others mid-back,
some even tall enough to look me in the face.

II. Fieldnotes

When one runs out of nature, the only
sensible thing to do is describe the playground:
jungle gym like a net, the slide a tongue.
Or the monkey bars that split into a second

& back into one one second grader, by chance,
said looked like a blue bootyhole. & what
was I to do with her smile & simile I knew
clasped a kind of truth? That is, if the crack

is a horizontal ladder. If a number two
is easy as swinging through a split that frames
the cumulus, which is different than breaking
wind. I didn’t twist my face in disappointment,

but looked at her grin that could turn a tree
into wood chips & said a beaver uses its tail
to dam streams.
No. I crouched over & sighed
Sunshine, keep that between you & your drawing.

III. Irrigation

My other favorite, which all teachers have
unless they’re all bad, was afraid of the water.
The port called Catoosa we learned
disqualifies Oklahoma from the term

landlocked, & connects their home to mine.
The dock was off-limits, but we tiptoed
the balustrades to watch barges syphon grain
& other goods for their route downriver.

The water is chocolate milk here, too.
We toured the towboat for show, hung
from the rails & yelled ahoy from the bridge.
We all had a chance as captain to imagine

sailing the Verdigris, then Arkansas
to the Yazoo. To steer down the boot & face
like a mangled shoelace. Or the snake
they pretended to see just to take off running.

IV. Living Wax Museum

After what’s tragic, comes comedy. Laughter.
After the massacre, they turned one internment
camp into the theater I passed everyday
on my way to nurture the importance of nature.

To the school named after the building
from which Dick Rowland bolted, where as part
of their Black History Month programming
kids dressed up as famous African Americans.

Jaylon is not Emmett, I hold. Jaylon is not old
enough to be Emmett in his oversized fedora
& button up. His double cuffed slacks
& cap toes. I understand not every statue

can be Langston Hughes. That tape, if placed
above the lips, substitutes as a mustache.
When I kneel to press the button Jaylon speaks:
I was born in Chicago…I died in Mississippi.


Author’s Note

Poem Statement

A Sensible Song

Light and sight go together

Smell tells us what’s around

Touch lets us learn texture

Ears help us hear sounds

Taste can bring about pleasure

All the senses can be found

Insiiiiide aaaaannnd oooouut

This is a tune my friend and I made up for our elementary nature writing classes. The schools had greater access than the one in Tulsa to which I dedicate this poem. I thought of ways we internalize place in our formative years along with the genius of improvisation that occurs in scarcity. I would say my intention was to isolate this negotiation, but I simply wanted to archive my experiences the way we’d ask our learners to record theirs: by attempting to use all of our senses.