Thursday, December 24, 2015

At The Nightingale School

Recently I spent a morning at The Nightingale School in Manhattan, a private school for girls that has a deep commitment to writing and literature. I started out the day talking to a class of seniors, young women with perceptive, not-always-easy-to-answer questions, the kind that bring out complexity and nuance. The class was taught by Brad Whitehurst, a poet himself, and with us was another teacher of poetry, Maya Popa. Maya was a student at the school when I read there last, in 2006, and like many young writers, even those who don't know they're writers yet, she must have been hungry for poetry, for a language that was in some measure commensurate with the inner life, or at least tried to be. Now the students call her Ms. Popa, and she's publishing poems and moving toward her first collection. When the class was over, she and Brad and I walked out into the hall, on our way to the auditorium where Maya would introduce me (a lovely circularity, or at least a stitch in crochet chain) and I'd read to the Upper School.

But when we entered the stairwell, which was fairly dim, a marvelous thing happened. The girls of the Lower School. the little ones in elementary grades, began to come streaming up the stairs. It must have been all of them, there were so many, and every single one of their faces seemed lit up from within. You could see that they were thinking all kinds of things -- a bit of nerves about the next class, an eagerness to join a game and move a restless body, a sadness here, a distracted look there -- but those were the surface signs of engagement in a new-ish life, a small girl self, and through that shone a glow of exhilaration, this almost physical light. 

I'm thinking about time a lot lately. The poems I'm scribbling at and not finishing seem centered on the mystery of time's passing, this difficult amalgam of fluidity and relentless progression. Does anyone understand this primary, determining fact of us, what it is to be in time?

There we were on the stairs, myself the eldest, then Brad the fine and seasoned teacher, and then Maya, adult in presence and perception though recently traveled from the audience of young women at the reading up onto the stage. I wonder if this journey feels recent to her? Probably not; it seems a long way from one's teens into one's twenties, and not nearly so far from the thirties to the sixties, at least for me. Whatever the disparate experiences of the three of us going down the stairs, a startlingly beautiful future poured up towards us. Maybe the stairwell wasn't really dark; it might be that the faces of a hundred and some hurrying little girls were bright enough to dim the space around hem.