Assembling syllabi, organizing books and supplies, and racing around campus put me in mind of Mary Leader’s “Schoolteacher’s Ditty.” Now professor of English at Purdue, Leader practiced law for many years and served as Oklahoma’s Assistant Attorney General. This poem in ten taut lines contrasts the breezy rhythms of summer with the routine of school. It will fit in any lunchbox, and you can enjoy it with whatever it is you keep in that antique thermos. Better yet, savor its bluesy beat on Labor Day when you wake to sunshine instead of an alarm.
Schoolteacher’s Ditty I wish I were a matchstick drifting drifting free on Black Bear Creek Clouds all stretched out on pallets boughs rolling back like a filmstrip the wind just waving me on Noon whistle, go choke on an old chicken bone I could not care less I am just a matchstick drifting free and easy on down the creek on down to Arkansas
This poem first appeared in The Quarterly and then in Leader’s Red Signature (Graywolf, 1997), a National Poetry Series selection.